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 favo
urite 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?