After reading an article on the guardian, The British abroad: expats, not immigrants, I’ve been thinking a lot about the different kinds of people who live and work abroad; where they’re from, how long they’re here, why they’re here, etc, and why one person is referred to as an “expat”, like myself, while someone else is an “immigrant”, like the Sri Lankan’s, working the bar on last nights “Expat Boat Party”.
I chatted with a friend who is currently working abroad in Thailand. He said that in his travels he notices everybody will find somebody beneath them in order to feel superior. In Thailand, they look down upon the Cambodians, in Cambodia, they look down upon the Burmese. Here in Maldives, I find the Maldivians look down upon the Bangladeshi’s and Sri Lankan’s- but not the Western immigrants, oh sorry, I mean expats. But the expats themselves, or at least many of them, look down upon Maldivians! In their own country! The way some Westerner’s talk to them can be truly appalling.
I’m sat with a new friend from Poland, who here, is of course an expat. Why then, back in Britain, is he an immigrant? Here his presence is respected, in Britain, he is stealing a Brits job. If the same logic applies, is he not then stealing a Maldivian’s job? Isn’t that what I’m doing? How Brits complain about immigrants in their own country while living the life of an expat, either working abroad or retiring abroad, I just don’t understand.
In Maldives, I’d say much of the workforce is foreign- in building the roads and apartments, in tourism, teaching- I met a doctor from Bangladesh the other day while trying to promote the new school I work in. Is he an immigrant or an expat? He has a respectful job, he spoke English almost fluently, yet he’ll be looked down on. It makes me feel angry. I feel embarrassed for referring to myself as an expat, even the very name of my blog and twitter accounts use the term expat, why not immigrant? Why do I, as many expats do, avoid identifying myself as an immigrant? Am I subconsciously using the term “expat” as a stamp of superiority?
I assume that, ignoring the deliberate (or subconscious) racism/discrimination, the explanation lies in the fact that an “expat” has not travelled to foreign lands solely to save money or to build a permanent life in a new country, but for some spiritual journey, for experience etc, and may only stay for a year or two, while an “immigrant”, perhaps, is working abroad to earn more money than he or she would do so in a similar job back at home. The guys I mentioned working the bar at the party, I’m told are earning about 6 times the amount they would back home. However, they don’t have much protection in terms of unions. We have a couple of guys from Bangladesh working with us but they are treated well and are happy when they visit home because they bring a decent wage with them.
All of the foreign labour force are expats because we live outside of our native countries. Some of us are also immigrants, not due to our place of birth or colour of skin, but because our residence is permanent. I haven’t travelled enough yet to decide to settle down longer than a year, but when I do go and make a life in wherever it is, I will consciously refer to myself as an immigrant rather than abhorring the word like some.
Whatever the reason for working abroad, no-one should be made to feel of less value than someone else purely on race; it’s disgusting. While it’s impossible to make absolute generalisations, I am starting to observe that in no matter which country, people remain people, and although attitudes and languages and culture may change, the majority of them will still have the same prejudices as everybody else, whether they live on an island, in the mountains, in riches or in poverty.
I hope that the term “immigrant” will start to lose it’s negative connotations and just stand for it’s literal meaning. No more them and us.
NB: I recommend taking a look at the comments section on that article on the guardian, it seems there’s an idea that expats don’t work abroad but live off of their own assets, while others who work abroad state they hate being called an expat- “Everyone I meet who calls themselves an expat has been a dickhead… wine-guzzling, racist..” Hmmmmm…… thoughts?