I’m English and I live in Portugal. Since it’s very common for researchers to be working in countries other than there homeland, I would usually just define my status as “post doc”. Now, I was looking over things at Facebook (which I had more or less forgotten existed until they sent me an email yesterday) and I noticed they have a lot of expat groups. I have to confess that the word “expat” squicks me. It always brings up thoughts of Eldorado and of rich Brits in the Algarve who’ve lived there a decade and are proud that they have avoided learning any more Portuguese than “por favor” and “obrigado/a”. Since I have a Portuguese wife I don’t really relate to this. This isn’t actually very fair since I think a fair number of those (Brits, Germans, Americans…) who would self-identify as expats in Portugal don’t fit stereotypes of cultural arrogance or any other such nonsense but it’s what the word triggers in me.
My personal response to the word isn’t really the pint of this post though. The thing is that Facebookers abroad, who are typically university students or else graduates with highly specialised skills working in a global job market, are easily thought of as expats and the Africans and Brazilians serving at food hall in Vasco de Gama aren’t. Neither are the Central and Eastern Europeans doing manual jobs all over Western Europe and neither, for that matter, are Portuguese waitresses in London or fruit pickers in Holland.
There doesn’t seem to be anything, except class and/or ethnic nonsense, behind this distinction. It’s not (as I’ve sometime heard) about whether the person involved remains primarily attached to their motherland and continue to see it as “home”. I know this because I’ve seen polls of Poles in the UK and the vast majority intend to earn some money and return to Poland, and yet politicians rarely seem to argue over levels of expatriation from the EU accession states; they talk about immigration. The function of the word “expat” seems to be to exclude middle class people from the stigma of being an immigrant, which leads me to my main point.
I’m an immigrant. I’ll say it loud, I’m an immigrant and I’m proud. And when people start hating on immigrants, be it PNR skinheads over here or the Daily Mail back in Britain, I’m taking it personally. If you bashing immigrants you’re bashing me and you’re bashing every post-doc in my department (right now) and bashing the viability of any research group in a small country.
Now I’ve got that off my chest I might actually join some of those Facebook groups.