Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Who's An Expat?

Just a normal coffee morning, starting at 10am and finishing at noon.

Most mid-week social things with our expat club happen between 10am and noon. It seems to suit everyone.

Coffee mornings happen several times a month for various reasons. It might be our monthly general meeting, or an activity at someone's house like book club or a cooking demonstration. We seldom stay for lunch as we've all got 'things to do'.

My personal favourite is the Area Coffee Morning. These are great for newbies. We assign everyone an 'area' based on where they live.  The benefit is information is shared - local shops, doctors, hairdressers etc. We might find a babysitter or child minder if someone has a teenage/college age child; we might discover a new restaurant, or a neighbour to walk the dogs with.

We might not meet up again all month, but this once a month 'local' get together is something all of us in our group at least, look forward to.

We are all ages.

We are from all over the world.

But, as I discovered this week, we are apparently not all expats (which is weird cos not one of us at the table was Irish)

Our conversation is always fun, but this week it started fascinating. I can't even remember how it started ........ but I did ask if they minded me writing down their comments as it would make a great chat on my blog.

And here it is.

We were sitting around the kitchen table, chatting away as usual as ladies were arriving and before we knew it we were talking about expat life ...... or non-expat life.

Belguim Lady: Moved to Ireland 28 years ago. She has lived in Dublin, Belgium and a few years in Finland, but does not think of herself as an expat. She simply lives in Dublin. Her kids went to college in Dublin and married Irish girls, they are here with the children, so Belgium Lady and husband simply continued living here. When he passed away, she thought oh well, here I stay. She has only just sold her home in Belgium after being there for several months. Her accent is thick, and she feels her English still isn't great after 'all these years', and she enjoys speaking French as often as possible.

French Lady: Does not consider herself an expat EVER, tho was born in France but seldom lived there.  She rattled off several countries in her gorgeous French accent. She's never been an expat cos where ever she's lived she's thought of as home. She and her late husband never earned the high salaries expats do, or travelled like expats do, she doesn't shop or play tennis like expats do, tho she loves her golf and bridge. Expats to her live indulged lives, which she's never done. She thoroughly enjoys her time with her French speaking friends; has been a member of the International Club for 'more years than I care to remember' and loves her international friends. Expat - no way.

Swiss Lady: Just laughed and scoffed at the whole expat concept. After living in Ireland for 25+ years, she's not an expat but Irish. She commented on how much easier it these days to feel like an expat, with so much technology keeping you in touch with home. When she left all those years ago, you left. You sent letters and postcards but that was all. She feels a stranger when she goes to her home country. She admitted that she no longer enjoy visiting anymore but rather prefers family and friends to visit her here where she feels 'at home'.

American Lady: One of the lucky non-Irish who is working full time as a university lecturer. Her husband is Indian, tho hasn't lived there for y-e-a-r-s. Their son is Irish by birth. This is home. They spend 'holiday time with family' in then US and India on alternate years. She believes an expat is a person who believes one day they will go home to live. As they will not return to either India or the US they are not expats. She's convinced her son will go to University here as he's rugby and cricket mad. When I suggested he might surprise her and go to Australia she simply smiled.

Canadian Lady: First time living away from the US, been here 2 years. Husbands contract is two years (expires summer 2015).  She just found out that her husband has been offered a permanent position which requires him to agree to stay long term, so she is in shock right now. Overnight she went from being very happy living here "for a few years" to now living here of the foreseeable future. They are very happy here. That's not the point. It was only supposed to be a few years. Now it's permanent. It's completely changed her outlook on her sons education as he will now more than likely finish high school here. She's desperately wanting to understand the IB program which is offered at only one school in Dublin. Now the fun begins to enrol him! She's also re-evaluating where they live, if she'll apply for a working visa and other things she took for granted as it was only 'two years'. She admits it's only an attitude shift, but it's a big one and one she wasn't really counting on.

Columbian Lady: Married to an Irish man, 3 kids at local school. Up until a few months ago, she was working full time. She said she's not an expat either. She lives 'in Europe". She has no intention of going back to Columbia other than to visit family, preferring to travel in Europe.

Spanish Lady: Married to a junior diplomat, and agree's that because they have no immediate intention to 'go home' they are indeed expats, tho she's not sure she likes the label. As a diplomatic family they know they will move every 3-4 years. Before they had kids, the world was their oyster. Now they have two little kids the options of which country/city becomes more important in terms of school opportunities, health care, safety.

Australian: Me: Expat! We always know we aren't staying anywhere for longer than 3 years. We are expats cos we don't know if/when we'll return to Sydney; but we do know that we will move every 2-3 years for the foreseeable future. We are mindful of getting MissM back into the International system (PYP/MYP and IB) from our next move as she will need the continuity of cirriculum.  We've only a few more moves before she finishes school - how weird is that? I also don't like the expat label (how I wish G's company allowed us to be like that!) but have seen it in action and at times admit to being a tad jealous.

Inbetween all that, we chatted about what it means to be an expat, or not; The considerations we have to make as women/wives/mothers when moving as it's a patriarchal lifestyle we lead.

  • Home is where you are, not where your from.
  • No such thing as a trailing spouse - we are absolutely on equal footing with our husbands/partners.
  • A positive attitude is key to a happy life (regardless of expat or not)
  • Having English as a language is vitally important, regardless of where you live, or are from.
  • Joining an International Women's Club (or similar) is high priority for social success.
  • When you're husband says 'would you like to move to ????" the first thing you do, if you have kids, is google International School (insert city) before responding.
  • The second thing you do is go thru your FB friends and find out (a) who's from there and (b) who's lived there or (c) who might know someone who is currently there so you can ask questions.
  • Being able to work (here, it's anyone from the EU which was all but two of us around the table) is so much easier than having a T2 visa which prohibits you from working.
  • Boredom is very dangerous.
  • Getting out of your comfort zone is challenging.
  • Learning new things keeps your brain active.
  • Socialising with people of all ages keeps you young.
  • Befriending people from all over the world keeps you globally aware.
  • You quickly learn to get out of your comfort zone, which is really hard for some people.
  • You learn to ask for help, even if it's only to find a hairdresser, or butcher.
  • Friendships are made fast and deep as who knows when one of you might leave
  • Take advantage of every opportunity to travel cos, you never know when you will go home and resume a normal lifestyle
  • You start a blog 
  • You find yourself befriending people you wouldn't normally be attracted to and learn stuff about yourself as a result
  • You join clubs and committees
  • You volunteer
  • You tour
  • You host visitors from 'home' 
  • You spend hours on Facebook every week staying connected with friends
  • You learn to say goodbye
  • You learn to say hello

So, what's an expat?

According to these wise, well travelled ladies, not them.

With friendship


  1. Oh my dear Ms Havachat you NAILED it all. every possible scenario. god love us all we are a mixed group, and so much the stronger for that. This is when I thank my stars that women/workers/mothers/friends are in my life, because they enrich me and I hope I can do the same for them. We are a rather special group, embassy contacts aside, but the 'real' expats have the toughest jobs - good thing we can do it on our own with the help of our new-found friends. No way the boys could manage that!!!

    1. I think around the kitchen table, having coffee is the last bastion of real ol' fashion community. We are there to support and nurture each other, with huge respect and empathy.

      I never thought of us as being special, but rather simply getting on with things. But, maybe we are a little bit special.

  2. wow one of your best blogs ever! demonstrates how varied, how individual, and how common our expat (or not expat) experiences are. What a joy to see what unites us, and what makes us different and interesting.

    1. So glad you liked it the second time round LOL

      No idea why this chat was sent again - must have been the blogging fairies