Over the years the expat has taken a real bashing in the mainstream British media, from drunken pensioners in Spain to the sexual exploits of couples in Dubai. More recently even the term “expat” has come in for criticism, with Mawuna Koutonin’s article Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?
The Guardian has opened up the debate on the word expat again. In their podcast from Qatar, ‘Two Fat Expats’ Kirsty and Sarah have called on everyone to be termed an expat, it shouldn’t be about colour or race, immigrants move permanently, the rest of us expats are only there temporarily.
Having followed stories similar to this for some time now what struck me was the use of imagery. The images we see in the media have the power to influence and change opinion in the split second it takes for our brain to recognise what we see. It was interesting that The Guardian chose to change the image used on the article.
To begin with their image was a portrait of an expat family that I’ve certainly never seen. A white family having afternoon tea with a black servant in the background. This is more reminiscent of images of colonialism than the reality of the expat world today. In fact the only time I ever saw anything remotely like this was the way the locals lived in the Middle East! Now The Guardian have changed this in favour of suntanned couple sat in the sun.
This image was original used by the newspaper in a 2012 article, when they were once more bemoaning the term expat:
The term expatriate is a stamp of superiority and is reserved for those who have the right passport – and look the part.
Again rather than try and claim the word expat for everyone instead they would rather we all became immigrants.
Retired expats living in the sun are something we’ve only just recently come across here. Even then the number that just sit drinking sunning themselves are very much a minority. The majority of the expats here work and many of those that are in theory retired are doing some form of work to subsidise their pensions. Everywhere we’ve lived the expats we’ve met have been all working. That’s what being expat is about, living and working in a different country. There’s the shopping, cooking and cleaning to do no matter where you live.
Sometimes as expats we don’t help ourselves, while researching this article I came across a forum for the Africa Expat Wives Club. Their chosen image is straight out of Stepford wives and epitomises everything that the Guardian writers were annoyed about. The stereotypical majority white middle class woman.
Can someone please tell me where we need to live and work to get that lifestyle? Not that we would want that anyway, but I really don’t think that exists for by far the majority of expats. Sitting drinking gin and tonic while you have lots of servants running around doing everything just doesn’t happen.
It seems that the newspapers though just love to look on the negative side of expat life. The images they choose to use are at times just designed to get people annoyed. An article in The Telegraph looked at the positive financial side of living and working overseas, listing the best places to work. However, the image they decided to put with the article was of a group women partying in the UAE.
Of course all anyone does in the UAE is party. Now I’m not saying that we didn’t do our fair share of having fun when we lived there, but we did also work. I taught in an International School, where we had children and staff from all over the world. When the Telegraph wanted to show how good life is, why not show the amazing facilities that expat kids experience in multicultural classrooms? Or how about the lovely large family houses compared to the tiny terraces they could afford back home?
It seems for now that it’s up to us bloggers to try and change the image of expats around the world. Expats are from every corner of the globe, in every country and working hard to make a life for themselves. Every one of those people are contributing to a wonderful mix of nationalities that makes expat life so extraordinary. I have been lucky to make some wonderful friends during our expat adventure so far. They come from many different countries and we are all expats together. Although of course according to Mawuna to use the term expat makes me a ‘white supremacist’ can we change the perception of that word?