Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Am I Still An Expat?




I caught up with French friends a few days ago, and they explained to me that they had bought a property in France for their retirement. They were adamant that they needed a place there. They were doing it up and project managing it from London, which must be a real challenge. And then it dawned on me: I am not going back to France. I don’t want to. Despite my French accent, the rainy weather and the condescending comments, I love it here. It is my home now.

How did it happen? When did I turn a corner? I don’t know. Probably after three or four years, actually. I just know that I am not going back to live in France. Don't get me wrong, I might live in another country, but not in France.


Other expat friends are leaving London too. They had lovely expat packages, with housing and school fees paid by their (very) generous companies. They live in the most expensive streets of London. I can’t help thinking that such expat packages are a double-edged sword, because of course you get used to a very high standard of living. If you decide –shame of shame! , they would say- to go local, you are going to have to cut back your cost of living in a very significant way.  I have always wondered why companies are still giving such generous packages. What is in it for them? I will never get it. The thing is, I have been working on local contracts since we moved here.

This means that we had to be more careful than our expat friends with money. Still today, I love a bargain, and I compare prices on the web. I have tried to share my experience on various forums, and I participated in the latest HiFX campaign (see here) to share some tips -and believe me, I would have liked someone to tell them to me when we moved-. I ask questions to other mums to know where to go. It has become a habit, really. And I am glad to be doing this, because we don’t rely on any expat package for our life in London.

That said, expats come and go, and a new cluster seems to have invaded the city. They stay together. They make snotty comments such as ‘I can’t find decent yogurt over here’ or ‘we didn’t take the apartment because we could hear Big Ben. It might wake us up, right?’ Between you and me, I would love to be woken up by Big Ben.

Will they stay? Will they go? I really wonder. That said, I am under no illusion: most of them will go. Why did I stay on? What has happened to me? Well I am still working on this one…Any thoughts?

18 comments:

  1. You ask what happened to you: You got to like your new life in London because you're open to difference and happily adapt to new surroundings. Not everybody does that - they seek to recreate "home" abroad and compare all the time, and in that case it can't work out.
    Welcome to the weird world of those who don't want to go home, but feel different to the other people in their street. I don't feel like an expat very often here in France, but I don't necessarily feel I'm French either. In the end, it's a privileged position - you get the best of both worlds, and more!
    We get waves of new expats with rose-tinted specs over here too - they come for the boules, saucisson and lavender, then realize that there is also cheese that escapes from the plate unaided, a merciless tax office system, multiple administrative hoops to jump through, potholes in the roads, pavements mined with dog poo, and strikes on a regular basis. They either find some kind of twisted charm to it, or they go home... Wait and see for the yoghurt squad!

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    1. You are right. Some expats come and go. Others, like us, end up staying!

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  2. There is a lot to be said for embracing your new home. I feel the same way about South Carolina although I wasn't born here. You are benefiting from London and it sounds like London is benefiting from you!

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    1. What happened to us! When did we end up feeling like we belonged to our adoptive country? I really wonder...

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  3. I think it's great that you are embracing your current home; whether you stay in London forever or not. Surely it's more important to feel comfortable and at home in the moment rather than getting too angsty about where home really is in a broader sense? Home for me is where my possessions are, where I perform my daily routines and where my favourite people are.

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    1. Maybe, Flora, we are citizen of the world? I couldn't live without travelling !

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  4. I'm like you, I ask for advice from people I meet too. I'm not proud. I ask the butcher the best way to cook a piece of meat, I ask the organic shop people what to do with some weird food, I ask local friends where they like to eat and drink. It's all about sharing and integrating in your own way. I'm not French and am not trying to live like a French person. I'm living in France in a world that suits me and seems to horrify some French people (especially my relaxed parenting...).

    You keep doing what you're doing. It suits you and makes you happy. That's what counts, stuff the rest. :)

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    1. Sound advice. I'd like to think that we are still learning. That's because we didn't become cynical & bitter. In fact, it should be celebrated, right?

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  5. The life of an expat is so full of adventure and confusion and letting go of old identities to make way for new ones. Great post that brought me back to my own expat experience twelve years ago.

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    1. Where were you living Kelly? I think that becoming an expat can change our perception if the world, usually for the better!

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  6. I love what has happened to you. You have adapted and you are thriving. L'chaim!

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    1. Thank you! The funny thing is that I didn't see it coming!

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  7. I agree that there are a lot of people who go to a new country and recreate "home" there. Since I'm not a full-time resident of France, I don't think I would technically qualify as an expat. However, even if I did stay in my apartment full time I still don't think I'd be fully French. On the other hand, after so much time in France (and other places), in some ways I'm not fully American. The U.S. is my birthplace and home, but I think I have some of the "world citizen" in me.

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    1. Good for you, Julie! I think that there is a lot to learn by living in different places.

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  8. When I lived one state away (just over the border) from Vermont, I would be labeled a "Flatlander", since I wasn't originally from "the green mountain state". It would be a derogatory term used to describe "annoying tourists". I think those that don't try to assimilate and embrace a new culture while living there, may encounter some negativity from the natives. And I would guess that they wouldn't have as enjoyable of an experience. You have managed to take root and make your home in London, which, despite the accent, will make people feel kinder toward you for making the effort. It's funny, my daughter was born in Vermont, so I guess no one can call her a "Flatlander".

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    1. I suppose that where we are coming from remains an important part of our identity! And don't worry, to an extent we are all 'Flatlanders'.

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  9. It sounds as if you have a positive attitude, and they don't, Muriel. That's not the whole story but it's a good start when it comes to making a good life.

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    1. Thank you, Jenny. Positive mental attitude is the key to lots of issue, me think. I am deep tonight! x

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