Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
Geographically speaking I live in Spain. And in that vein I’ve lived in Prague, Bangkok, Turkey and Qatar, very briefly Tokyo and existed for a year in Germany. But in the real sense, I’ve spent the last decade living somewhere I like a lot more – Expatlandia.
I usually hear “the expat crowd/thing/scene” used as a term of disdain by Go Native Non Natives (i.e. expat Try Hards) to mean people who are not integrating.
“I can’t remember the last time I was in such an expat crowd,” they sneer from their Birkenstocks. “Of course, I never come into the centre now I live in The Authentic Suburbs.” Dig deeper though and you find cupboards bursting with maple syrup, Vegemite or secret DVD box sets of Dr Who.
In their earlier incarnation in whichever country the conversation is happening, the Expat Try Hards were also Not Tourists. This was proved by their refusal to ever get out a map, take a taxi from the airport or enter a souvenir shop – even if it meant standing around the corner clicking their tongue at an article in El Pais while their visiting friends and family bought keyrings with bulls on.
“I can’t learn anything from other Americans,’ my American, Czechophile boyfriend in Prague said once. He went out with me, I assume, because English was foreign enough. He was the type to sit in cafes alone writing in his journal rather than admit he wanted to hang out with the other teachers. He contented himself with befriending his students and educating them about American cinema but damn well never set foot in an Irish pub.
Other expats often ask how many Spanish friends I’ve got as they try to place me on the Expat-Integrated scale. The question always throws me. I choose my friends based on whether I…er…like them not where they come from. Maybe I should collect them like Tazos and trade them in for tins of Heinz Baked Beans with sausages. So, let’s think, I have 3 Spanish friends or 3.5 if you include a Spanish-Canadian living here. Does she count for or against me in this weird authentic friends contest? Or will they see my three Spaniards but raise me one five generation Madrileño?
And really, why would I have loads of Spanish friends particularly? I’ve far more in common with people living outside their mother country than anyone who’s spent their whole life unable or unwilling to cut the umbilical cord with theirs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but it’s hard to relate to. Plus they’re a lot more settled into their life, friends and routines so I see them less which is the precise same difficulty I’ve found I have making or maintaining friendships when I’ve lived in the UK.
In the UK you can work with someone five months before you get included in the after work drinks inner circle.`And your old friends are booked up for the next 6 weekends in a row and don’t mix you with their other categories of friends. The Spanish are similarly hard to pin down as they only genuinely mean the invitation at the moment it leaves their lips. After that it has about as much currency as the peseta.
That last paragraph highlights one of the true joys of life as an Expatlandian: Being able to look down on two different countries at once. Pour scorn on Spain’s appalling customer service on the inhale, heap vitriol on the British nursery school fitting mealtimes on the exhale. Breathe in, the bloody English shops all close when everyone finishes work so what the hell use is that? Breathe out, why are all the bloody shops here closed all afternoon? And in, tortilla is a bland and overrated national dish, and out, Brits can’t have a beer without glassing someone.
Here in Expatlandia, we pick and choose which of our native and local customs to follow, weaving in some imported from other outposts of our wide and all inclusive borders. We speak a smattering of languages, enough to get by, but the lingua franca is English – lucky old me. We make friends for life at a moment’s notice and invitations flow unfettered in either direction. We come and go but we never really leave – even if we stay in one place for a lifetime.