Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Expat vs Immigrant or Why I Love my EU Passport

Early on in my acquaintance with Understanding Frenchman, I referred to myself in conversation as an expat.

"But you're not an expat," he said. "You don't have an expat contract. You're an immigrant."

"Maybe you're right," I said. "But I don't exactly feel like an immigrant either."

A couple of years down the line (and still in a relationship with Understanding Frenchman, despite the powerful implications of this conversation) I still don't really know what I am. I have a permanent local contract at work, but I wouldn't be in the job I'm in if I wasn't British. Likewise, I am perfectly happy living in France, but I didn't come here intending to become French. Having come with no plans to stay forever, the best way I can put it now is that I'm not thinking of leaving any time soon.

And yet, five years is something of a turning point. It's the point where, within the EU, you have to start paying social security where you live and not in your mother country. If you work for an embassy, it's the longest you can stay before they start to fear you may go native and move you on. And, as a friend and I were saying the other night, it's the point where you may not like everything about your host country, but you start to become increasingly zen about accepting it.

The joy of being an EU citizen is that you don't actually have to worry about this stuff very much. You can stay as long as you like, work as long as you can get a job, and transfer your social security contributions when you leave. It's a situation that corresponds almost perfectly to the way I feel right now. My history is Scottish and British, but I've shared enough with France to feel that I can belong here too.

Even if I stay here forever, the only reason I can see for asking for French citizenship is to have the right to vote. I didn't mind being a bystander at the last presidential election, but in four-and-a-half years' time, I want to be involved. I've done the online tests and I'm pretty sure I could pass. But, deep down, I know that if, right now, I became French (even with dual nationality) I'd feel like a fraud. Not because I'm not integrated, not because I don't care about France or understand the French, but because I don't have the history. France is fantastic, but she isn't (yet) mine.

Maybe I'm being over-dramatic. Perhaps national identity is more about practicalities and paperwork than I think it is. Or perhaps, a couple of years down the line, I'll just feel I belong that little bit more. In the meantime, I'll just cling tight to my maroon and gold passport and hope that Britain doesn't leave the EU!

What do you think? For those of you that have taken on another nationality, what does it mean for you? And if you haven't, would you?

12 comments:

  1. My husband and I moved from the north of England to New Zealand 40 years ago. The reason we went to the expense of becoming citizens after five years is lost in the mists of time, but I imagine it was because we felt sure we were going to stay. It certainly makes life easier if you are a citizen of the country you live in. Now, I feel that I am a 'Kiwi' - even though I don't sound like one - and NZ is where I call home. We can have both passports, but we don't bother with the maroon and gold one. Our two daughters are very grateful to have the right to one, though, as they have chosen to live in London and Tours!
    aroon and gold one - although two of our kids are very grateful to be abl

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    1. Something went wrong on the eepad (laptop) there (that's my mum). I am very grateful for the UK passport, I hope they do always stay in the EU because I don't think I can have three nationalities (?)

      I've heard lots of theories on the difference between immigrant and expat, from the type of contract you're on to the idea that only (white) Westerners have the privilege of being identified as expats. I don't know if I feel permanent enough to call myself an "immigrant", but I don't feel I fit into a certain expat stereotype of wanting to live in a bubble entirely outside of the "host" society either, so I'm ambivalent too.

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    2. Hi Gwan and Gwan's mum! Thank you for sharing your story - what a family of adventurers you are!

      Gwan, your point about the connotations of "expat" is so true. I'm glad that the first couple of years I spent in France I was well out of the expat bubble, and that's probably partly why I don't feel quite like an expat now either, despite the fact that here in Paris it's so easy to live as one.

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  2. Becoming a Canadian citizen (I did in 2009) meant a lot to me. It was a symbol of my new life, I want to fully belong. The fact I could eventually become a citizen played a big part in my decision to immigrate to Canada actually.

    I was lucky because I can keep my French citizenship as well. I feel both, French and Canadian, and I like that.

    That said, I'm not sure I would "bother" getting another EU citizenship if I were to move from France to Italy, or France to the UK, etc. To me, Europe is Europe, no big deal and less red tape.

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    1. Zhu, I agree with your "Europe is Europe" comment. I've felt Scottish and British my whole life, so perhaps that's what makes it even easier for me to add another layer to my identity, without it changing what lies underneath.

      Reading your blog, I've always thought it was really great the way you seemed to integrate in Canada so easily - you seem like a very well-adapted recent citizen!

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  3. Being French for me is two-fold. First of all, pragmatically-speaking, it means that I no longer have to deal with the yearly hassles of visas and work permits. I can now stay here of my own accord, without being dependent on my job or my husband etc.

    Secondly, once I'd definitively realized my home was here, it became more important to me to be able to have some kind of say in the future of this country, ie being able to vote and participate in the electoral process, the same as I used to do in the US.

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    1. The voting thing is definitely important to me too - if I do ever ask for citizenship, that will be the reason. But I'm wondering if once you have the nationality for practical reasons and get used to thinking of yourself as French, perhaps the feeling of actual identity grows on you afterwards, kind of like when you're born in a country and develop the identity as you grow up.

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    2. I really put down roots in NZ after I had my three children here and then experienced the NZ school system through them. You become part of a community when your children are enmeshed in it, I think. I finally realised I was a Kiwi during the Gulf war and saw Britain through an outsider's eyes - quite a shock really.

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  4. Hi Canedolia, from an Englishman in Lyon. I wouldn't ever take on French citizenship even though I've lived very happily in France for 25 years. Why? Because - and like yourself in some respects - although I love all things French I just ain't French. I'm British and proud to be and although I do realise that France has been very good to me I can't pretent to be who I don't feel I am.

    There's another reason too. I have been asked by quite a few French friends and acquaintances why I haven't yet become a French citizen and I must confess that I find their reasons for saying that I should take the plunge to be vaguely irksome. They seem to be slightly miffed, slighted even, at my refusal and their words imply that it is tantamount to being ungrateful to France. There's a slight whiff of a colonialist attitude there somewhere which I find disagreeable. They just don't seem to understand that one can live in another country yet keep one's own nationality and that that's normal.

    The French have an uneasy relationship with what being French should mean, as witnessed by various attempts by governments of all colours to debate what a French citizen should be. Perhaps their surprise at my refusal has something to do with that too.

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    1. Fripouille, sometimes I wonder if my feelings about the idea of becoming French are a partly a consequence of that "colonialist attitude" ... on both sides of the Channel! I suspect that if we talked about dual citizenship with British people in the UK, lots of them would wonder why being British wasn't good enough and why we were giving in to the French idea of their own superiority!

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  5. As per the any country immigration the candidate must pass in citizenship test to settle permanently in that particular country. Suppose if you want to settle in UK you need to pass British citizenship test with minimum 75%.

    To practice the questions visit "http://www.britishcitizenshiptest.co.uk/"

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  6. I don't disagree with the principle of a citizenship test, but both I and all the other British citizens I know who tried it failed the sample version of the test! The French one is much better, because it asks questions about things that real French people actually know.

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