Following on from Jamie’s “Expat syndrome”, two posts down, I wanted to give my own point of view.
First off, we need to deal with the word expat. It has become a stupid word because it is used to define so many different kinds of people that it is now so vague as to be meaningless. There’s a world of difference between someone like me, for example, and someone who has been sent to Poland for a 2-3 year stint as the head of “Money-R-Us Bank” or indeed anyone who considers any country other than Poland to be ‘home’ (and that includes Polonia).
Then there’s the issue of roots versus home. To most people that some might call expats, their roots AND home are most likely to be the UK, USA, France, Germany or wherever. Poland would claim neither of those rights, it would just be one of those interesting places they visited for a while. My roots are in England, my home is Poland. The Polonia of Chicago et al may have Polish roots (once removed in many cases) but it’s very likely their home is the USA. Roots is where you came from, home is where you are now and/or where you see yourself staying in the future. I’m sure there is such a thing as Polish or English “blood in the veins” but I’m not sure it’s stronger than actually “walking the walk”. Who’s more qualified to comment on modern day life in Warszawa, me or Pan Kowalski of Mickey-Mouse Boulevard, Chicago who’s visited here a few times?
I cringe whenever I’m referred to as an expat. I brings visions of gin-soaked moaners who are here on an all expenses paid jolly and can’t wait to either go back home or be posted to somewhere ‘more civilised’, with better weather or in some way better than Poland. Sure there are exceptions and of course they are all entitled to their opinions about Poland but I object to my opinions being placed in the same category because;
- I moved here because I wanted to, not because I was told to for the sake of my career or because I was trying to exploit Poland to get rich quick
- Despite employment problems I stayed here because I wanted to, even though it would have been far easier to give up and go back to the UK
- I fell in love here
- I got married here (for the only time)
- I had my first child here, she goes to a Polish school
- I’ve lived and worked here for way more than 2-3 years
- I am fully integrated into my Polish family
- I’m paid in zloty and I pay normal Polish taxes and ZUS on it all
- I have no intentions of leaving, save for the same reasons any Pole would leave
- I’m happy to die here (even have a plot ready for me!)
- and so on
If the expats moan it’s because they are whining little shits who really should just piss off back home. They have no real stake here, they’ve made no investment, they’re not really involved, this is just a passing phase. If I moan or comment it’s because I want to see improvements, because I’m genuinely interested, because I’m trying to understand the people I intend to live with for the rest of my life, because I care, for God’s sake!
To my mind, that makes me more than an expat, more than “some foreigner who lives in Poland”. I’m not sure what it does make me (other than insane!) because I don’t know if there’s a word that adequately describes my ‘condition of being’. And that in itself is a problem, something that bugs me, because not only do I not know what to call myself, neither of my significant nations (UK & Poland) know what to do with me either. There’s always that awkward moment when you’re trying to do something and you don’t quite fit the mould so you end up feeling like you’re living in a no-man’s land.
I’m Polish in that I have a PESEL and a NIP and a karta pobytu and a meldunek and I live and work here and my family is Polish, etc – but I’m not Polish because I don’t speak the language well enough and I don’t have a dowód osobisty or a Polish passport and people don’t look at me and see a Pole, they see an angol. I’m British because I have a British passport and I was born there and lived there for the first 30+ years of my life – but I’m not British for the all reasons that I’m Polish and I don’t have any National Insurance any more and I don’t have a UK property or bank account or pension and I’ve only really been a tourist in the UK for many years now, and so on. So nobody really wants me, neither the UK nor Poland and to add insult to injury, I get called an expat and some think I have no right to talk about it all!
Pah! I spit on all your hang-ups, I spit on bureaucracy, I spit on borders and small minds, I spit on expats. I know what I am and that’s what matters most.