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Great Expat-tations

Patrick Ward By Patrick Ward Published on November 4, 2015


There is a lot of fuss at the moment about immigrants. They are coming to our countries, taking our jobs and our unemployment benefits, refusing to integrate and taking over our neighbourhoods, and all of the other things too. It makes me sick. It makes me sick because they are refusing to do what any good civilized Westerner would do in a similar situation. Adapt. And by adapt, I mean become an “expat”.

Ex-pats are loved all around the world. We rock up to other countries, shouting words in English because we shouldn’t need to learn the local language (“HAVE SOME RESPECT. WE USED TO OWN YOUR COUNTRY, YOU KNOW?” works in most places). We are welcomed anywhere because we contribute to local economies, even if we just go there to secure valuable contracts transferring ownership of local mines to UK-based multinationals. The tabloid newspapers also love expats. They love stories of plucky rich white men making a mint in Barbados or Spain or Dubai.

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But how do you become an expat, you might ask? Well, first of all, you should travel abroad on an aeroplane. That’s right, none of this sneaking onto the back of a lorry stuff, or using inflatable rafts to cross the Mediterranean. That’s a school boy error made by many immigrants. But it isn’t only that, because we often don’t have time to ask immigrants how they got into the country, we’re usually too busy running to a computer to write comments on newspaper websites. I know this isn’t very politically correct (sigh! What have we become?), but the best way to transform from an immigrant into an ex-pat is to be white. Becoming white isn’t always an easy thing to do, but I assume it’s about as difficult as learning another language. I have no idea, because I’ll never have to do either of those things to get by in life. But, trust me, it’s worth it. Unless you are Polish, in which case you’re still an immigrant (it’s in the small print).

One of the best ways to illustrate this point is to examine the difference between expats and immigrants in the pages of Britain’s famously high quality newspapers. One newspaper is the Daily Star, a popular tabloid newspaper owned by media mogul and porn baron Richard Desmond. Here’s a headline from that newspaper in 2010: “Migration: A good life for expats: Brits happier after moving abroad”, which is followed by: “British expats enjoy a better quality of life abroad than those who stay in the country”. But further down the article you get passages like this: “...immigrants who have come to live in Britain ranked it bottom of a global league table in a recent poll, thanks to pollution, soaring house prices and the high cost of living”. That makes it all easy. If you are British you are always an expat, if you are from one of those poor countries (it doesn’t matter which one), you are an immigrant.

Another Daily Star headline: “Britain full to bursting with immigrants” it says, continuing with the standfirst, “Britain’s population has soared to a record 63.7million in a year as foreigners swamp the UK”. That’s taken from a 2013 story in the Daily Star, and was published just before Britain did, literally, burst. We all remember that. We were already in a swamp, and that swamp of foreigners burst everywhere. Prince Philip (a Greek expat) had to pile up corgis against the front door of Buckingham Palace to stop the swamp getting in. The story below that Daily Star headline basically fleshes it out into a few hundred words, next to a sidebar of links to stories about famous women with large breasts and other famous women flaunting their vaginas for the world to see through the tinted glass of their car windows.

I would give more examples from the Daily Star, but my eyes have started to bleed. I tried phoning my doctor, but on hearing his Indian accent I realised that he was also an immigrant. I asked him if he had ever considered being an expat instead, but like so many immigrants he refused to integrate, and after a few attempts at getting an answer he put the phone down on me, which was just as well, because I had to write a comment online about it in capital letters.

One of the best examples of the difference between expats and immigrants was the anti-immigrant United Kingdom Independence Party setting up a branch in northern Spain for “expat” Brits so fed up with all those pesky immigrants going to the UK they decided to live abroad, sadly forgetting to pack their sense of irony.

But the expat/immigrant distinction is important. It’s part of our consciousness. Even the most right-on hand-wringing lefty, like me, will probably use the two terms in the way the Daily Star does. It’s a good example of how language can be used to strengthen division – in much the way that a white kid shooting up a school in the US is a “mass murderer” (or perhaps just “troubled”), but a Middle Easterner doing the same thing is a “terrorist”.

Through talking about immigrants and expats we have created an other, someone who is fundamentally different to us. Perhaps it’s time we watch our language a little better. But only English, please. Shouted clearly. At a waiter in Tenerife.


Patrick Ward is a journalist and writer in London. He likes historical non-fiction and sci-fi, which gives him the opportunity to read about what went wrong in the past and how it might be better ... Show More