Maybe I just got out of bed the wrong side this morning?

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of labels, it has to be said. Not the ones that come inside your underwear, although frankly I think I speak for us all when I say that it can be rather annoying when they get caught in your netherlands when you least expect it. But grouping people into one amorphous mass because it’s just kind of easier to say “crazy” rather than “that woman with the collection of frogs perched on her head” just doesn’t really work for me.

I’ve attracted a few labels in my time. The current favourite for the kids (The Little One mercifully excepted, although possibly only because of her inability to form understandable words at this point) is ‘fat’. Seemingly a little harsh, but hopefully nothing that a month of not drinking alcohol won’t sort out. That said, my tag as ‘gadget geek’ is probably well-deserved, although if I continue to purchase with the pace I’ve been keeping up over the last five years, the next label I’ll no doubt be acquiring will be ‘vagrant’ thanks to The Special One kicking me out on the street.

It doesn’t even have to be me that’s being labelled in order for me to get annoyed. A few times over the last three months, one relatively distant acquaintance has consistently referred to The Special One as ‘mommy’ eg How’s mommy? Is mommy sleeping well? What are mommy’s plans for going back to work? It’s all I can do to stop my fingers slamming the keys through the keyboard in fury as I reply. After all:

a) Do you think that using the word ‘mommy’ with me is ever going to induce joy in my soul?
b) You are a grown adult with a good education, do you really have to talk like a five year old?
c) My wife has a sodding name, you know.
d) I’m pretty sure that if she defined herself by anything, The Special One would be likely to use ‘world champion cumberland sausage eater’ rather than ‘mommy’. I appreciate that she’s had three kids and that they’re a hugely important part of her life, but she also peed the bed three times when she was young and she doesn’t expect people to refer to as ‘legendary bedwetter’.

But the label I least like being used to describe me is ‘expat’.

The problem is not so much with being away from my homeland, although that in itself brings its own problems such as missing friends and family. But does the tag that comes with leaving your own country really have to be quite so negative sounding?

a) It defines me by where I used to be, rather than where I am now. I went to Rhyl when I was a kid, so should I have been referring to myself as ‘ex-Rhyl visitor’ for all these years?
b) There’s an implicit assumption that I cannot truly be happy until I am returned from whence I came. I mean, most nights I do look out of the window and watch the rain pour down as I dream wistfully of black pudding, but even I smile sometimes.
c) Is it just me, or does it somehow suggest that I was thrown out of my own country, possibly for my role in the Great Train Robbery?

My biggest problem though is that I’ve seen too many TV shows featuring British expats in Spain. And frankly, I don’t like the idea of being lumped in with some over-tanned tracksuit-wearing former hairdressers from Bermondsey whose idea of having exotic food is having tinned tomatoes with their egg and chips. Call me a snob if you like, but my idea of exploring the world is not ‘drinking halves of mild in Ye Olde Red Lion just outside Torremolinos’.

Essentially, ‘expat’ has become too much of a catch-all for anyone living away from their home country. Reluctantly accepting that the world would fall apart without collective nouns, I think we need a wholly new label rather than attempting to reclaim ‘expat’ as a proud tag for adventurous world citizens.

But what to call people who have no vote, a permanent look of confusion, and who regard ‘wherever in the world we happen to be’ as their true home?

“Disenfranchised befuddled turtles” just isn’t going to cut it, is it?

25 thoughts on “Maybe I just got out of bed the wrong side this morning?

  1. Lisa

    labels.. one of my biggest pet peeves, aside from people touching computer displays or eyeglasses. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I remember people calling my daughter “shy” for ages, and I corrected them every chance I had. Labels sometimes change the way people feel about themselves and their abilities, and that’s never a nice thing if it’s not a label like “Brilliant!”. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Dylan

    Strangely Lisa, no one used the tag “brilliant” on me!

    Oh, and if you happen to pass by, Expat Mum, do not be offended by this post! This is not a green bean casserole blog entry, I promise!

  3. Limey

    I get your point, but I would counter-offer that “expat” refers to someone who is brave enough to live in a new land and who has a better world view/understanding than the average Joe. Embrace it – it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon!
    All the best – Limey

  4. Sarah

    Why don’t you just come home then? I will make you a nice cup o PG tips and some marmite toast. Xx

  5. Kate

    I think that “alien” sums us up pretty nicely. I knew an Australian ex-pat who printed up business cards with the label “alien of extraordinary ability”.

  6. NFAH

    totally don’t get your rant, those of use who chose to leave the country of our birth have some social stigma, and under most circumstances it amuses us. Have you awoken on the wrong side of the bed?

  7. Silverback

    Spending 6 months in Florida and 6 months back home in England, I cannot accept the ‘expat’ label with any degree of worthiness.

    I do, however, enjoy the label ‘lucky lucky bastard’ which has a certain ring to it.

  8. Dylan

    NFAH – er, I just don’t like the word expat, that’s all. And if you think that’s a rant, then I want your life!

    And Ian, your tag sounds v appropriate!

  9. Brooklyn


    Number 3 in your post is false, or worse, true. Either way, what subway line are you sleeping on after The Special One kicked you out for issuing the libel/making the disclosure? [Here’s a hint: I once read the A line is the best for as an alternative site for nocturnal narcoleptic sessions because it is the longest of all NYC subway lines.]

  10. Brooklyn

    I should have written “Item d,” not “Number 3”

    [What happened to the “edit” function?]

  11. Dylan Post author

    Not sure where the edit function went, Brooklyn. Will look into it. I’ve mostly been sleeping on express trains…I think the speed lulls me to sleep best.

  12. Iota

    I don’t like the word expat. And I don’t know how to spell it. Should it have a hyphen? Ex-pat?

    On the basis that it’s too retrospective, focusing on where you’ve come from rather than where you are, or where you are going, I propose we should adopt a new word which focuses more on future plans. The pre-pat. Or just prepat.

  13. Brooklyn

    “Iโ€™ve mostly been sleeping on express trainsโ€ฆI think the speed lulls me to sleep best.”

    It’s not the speed, it’s the rocking resulting from the speed.

    (For non-NY’ers, “trains” = subway.)

  14. Brooklyn

    “The pre-pat. Or just prepat.”

    Wasn’t Prepat a cousin of Prymaat on the old Saturday Night Live Conehead sketches?

    Or Julia Sweeney’s Pat character before sex re-assignment surgery on the old Saturday Night Live Pat bits before sex re-assignment surgery ?

  15. Alasdair

    Brooklyn – isn’t sex re-assignment surgery the reason for the expression “Just a few cuts here’n’there, an’ Bob’s yer Auntie !” ?

    Personally, I perceive “expat” as one of those 1/2full vs 1/2empty mood detectors …

    Some of us are expats because we have voted with our feet and live outside the country of our birth, by moving towards what we perceive as being better for our lives overall …

    Some of us are expats because we felt forced into exile from the country of our birth, and where we currently reside is the sorry best we’ve been able to find …

    I belong in the former group … and even more so after my recent return from 4 weeks back in the nanny-state … fortunately, I spent most of my time in the comfortably-chilly West Coast of Scotland, rather than the proverbially brass monkey weather the rest of mainland UK has been experiencing …

    Best comment during that trip was “So after some heavy falls of evidence of ongoing Global Warming, which subsequently got compacted into the shiny very-slippy stuff, more falling evidence of intensifying Global Warming has been beyond the abilities of local authorities to grit in any effective manner.” …

    Iota – how about not-yet-repatriated-denizen – or nyrd as the appropriate acronym ?

  16. bella

    Really enjoyed the post, which I can horribly identify with by the way. I also enjoyed the comments – so many varied responses! I love it when they get hot under the collar.

    I have mixed feelings, personally. I love my new US home and doubt I will live anywhere else for at least …oh, a year. I also miss England, having never, ever thought I would. I feel I am no more British (tho born there) than American (of course) and still feel as much as of a nomad as I always did. My home can only ever be where I am at this very moment. And as for calling me an expat….well, I don’t like ‘ex’ anything and I’ll go along with Silverback. Why didn’t I think of that myself?!

    Bella ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Emm

    Oooh, I dare people to start calling me “Mommy” when I have kids. I’d love to be a mother but I’d rather not have my entire 36 years on this planet reduced to the current period of sleepless nights and nappy changing.

    I always smile when people call me an expat. I’ve never been a “pat”. My parents were Frecnh and English expats respectively when I was born in South Africa and over the course of the next 35 years we moved to UK then Nigeria then back to UK and on to South Africa. I have a South African accent and was born there but England was always my home.

  18. Expat Mum

    Erm…I don’t know what to say really. I feel a tad foolish. Actually I don’t think anyone has ever called me an expat (well, to my face anyway), but since I write about US/UK things and couldn’t come up with anything else relevant for a blog name, it had to do.
    BTW, Brit Out of Water has a bit of a negative ring to it also. I mean, it gives the impression that you haven’t a clue what you’re doing, are always putting your foot in it, and…oh, wait a minute…..

  19. Alasdair

    Brooklyn – I am most certainly “aware that global warming is not proven or disproven by single incidents of local weather or even season to season changes, but decades-long trends” – hence my comment about the rest of the UK … if ti helps, during the same period, most of the US and most of Europe seemed to be less than happy they they were the ones experiencing single incidents of local weather inconveniently all at the same time in so many places around the planet …

    Sorta reminds me of one of my all-time favourite Playboy cartoons from way-back-when …

    A very-obviously-pregnant woman is standing in from of a Doctor’s desk (complete with legible thingie on the desk saying “Dr Whoever, Ob/Gyn”) – and the Doctor is saying “That’s The Pill for you; unpredictable side-effects !” …

    Each time Almost-President Gore gives an AGW speech and where he is giving the speech has record cold temperatures that day, I am reminded of that cartoon, paraphrased as “That’s Anthropogenic Global Warming for you; unpredictable sude-effects !” …

    So – since the record cold levels in “local” parts of the UK are to be considered as “local weather” per you, just where the $#@$@# in the UK was experiencing unseasonably warm termperatures ?

    Am I permitted to point out that the AGW folks’ dire predictions of the accelerating-increase “Hockey Stick” model of temperatures seems to have some important flaws in it – as, for example, the significant measured downturn trend in planetary temperatures over the past half-decade and more ?

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