This is the ONLY song that I could even consider using as the theme tune of the day. A very young Sting and Englishman In New York. This ‘legal alien‘ business has been on my mind quite a bit lately for a whole heap of different reasons. It is a little bit more serious than most of my more recent posts, then again it’s something I’ve been contemplating quite a lot lately and want to get off my chest.
The bother really started with the term expat. Expatriates are in my mind the types that move to an another country for a fixed period of time. The whole family may or may not accompany them. I know families in both camps. Sometimes it’s easier if one parent stays ‘home’ while the children carry on normal life (school, hobbies etc). In other cases it makes sense that the whole family is in on the adventure. Either way it’s for a finite time, 1 year, 2 years maybe five at the most.
I thought I’d hunt down a definition and this is the first response I got: Noun – a person who lives outside their native country. Yes, I fit into that particular box. Adjective: Living outside one’s native country. I detect a pattern, and again this is one box that I fit into. Verb: Settle oneself abroad. I don’t like this pattern one little bit. If we get into synonyms then words such as exile, emigrant, banish, deport and relegate come up.
Wikipedia gave this as the opening entry: “An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).” See here for their full entry which continued in the vein of the living outside one’s native country. My Finnish dictionary gave me ulkomailla asuva henkilö (person living overseas) for expat, and then went straight to maanpakolainen (exile) for expatriate.
While also contemplating my own expat status, I started to wonder why refugees aren’t called expats, after all they are residing outside of their native country. I wonder why immigrants aren’t called expats, again living outside of their native country. There appears to be an unwritten rule (except now it’s in Wikipedia!) that it’s a term reserved for professionals sent abroad or hired from abroad to fill a gap in the local labour market.
My own contemplations return. I’m a member of various groups that label themselves ‘expat’. The funny thing is, all of these groups I’ve joined in recent times and long after the ‘expat’ tag really ceased to apply in my mind. I know I shouldn’t worry about these labels. The thing is I don’t feel Finnish and I don’t feel Australian (or Tasmanian) even. Please don’t tag me as an international resident. Yes I’m an Australian that lives in Finland, and while I’ll never be a Finnish Finn, the longer I live here the less Australian I feel.
In my Finnish class we are a truly international bunch: from Australia to Afghanistan, from the Ukraine to the US and every continent in between. Most of us have lived here a long time, and our Finnish is pretty good. We are all the same when it comes to describing our language skills: I speak my mother tongue and a little Finnish! Crazy, we all speak lots of Finnish, yet every last one of us downplayed our skills. Why? Are we afraid that by admitting to being fluent in Finnish that we will lose a part of ourselves. Instead we should be shouting from the rooftops: Hah I speak Finnish! Actually Häh, mä puhun suomea! Are we afraid that we sound bad or our accents are showing? Like our teacher reminded us today, we need to speak badly before we can begin to speak well. As for accents, well I’m well aware that my Finnish sometimes has the Helsinki ‘whine’. I actually quite loath a full on Helsinki accent, so this is a little ironic!
Speaking Finnish and English brings us to bilingualism. From day one we decided to follow the one parent one language model. I speak English, The Engineer speaks Finnish and thus Mr. 13 speaks both. Beautifully, naturally without thought or hesitation. It is a beautiful thing to behold and really took not much effort. More effort is required for the cultural side and I’m starting to sense that I may have strayed here. I think had I moved to Finland as an Australian family it would have been easier to maintain Australian customs. We don’t do much Australian ‘stuff’ and seriously, Australia is far from my thoughts when it’s -10 and I’m shoveling snow out of the car-park. We do Australian stuff when we go to Australia which is not that often, and probably not often enough from anyone’s point of view. I don’t keep up with the minutiae of Australian life; it’s hard enough keeping track of Finnish life sometimes 🙂
Cultural differences came up in my travel class too. If I have mentioned this fact before, I apologise in advance for repeating myself! My first two years here are a total blur. I have absolutely no recollection of how I got through day-to-day living. That’s culture shock on a major level. I must have managed, we’re alive and well, yet the only incident I can recall is trudging to the foreigners police station to submit my paperwork. Sitting in the waiting room for hours on end with a cranky toddler amongst other cranky toddlers. It’s catching, trust me… On the surface there might not seem to be so many differences, yet you don’t have to go very deep to realise things are very different.
The Engineer says I’m an Australian Finn, Finland says I’m a citizen and Australian says I’m a non-residential citizen. Mr. 13 calls me mum and I call myself numerous names, and wonder why I’m getting so worked up about this now of all times. Perhaps it’s because all of these elements have landed on the table in the last few weeks in different guises and discussions.
Now I’m dumping the expat tag. I’m Kanerva, Heta or Heather depending on where and how you know me. I’m someone who lives in Finland that happens to have been born somewhere else. As Sting so rightly points out: “It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile; Be yourself no matter what they say”
What do you think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? What springs to mind when you hear the term expat? I actually have a very clear picture in my head of a couple that I worked with when I was on-board. Is bilingualism and multiculturalism part and parcel of being an expat? For me that’s part of being an immigrant! I’d really like to hear, especially if you’re living in a country that is not your native country.