At lunch today in a good Greek restaurant over caviar de aubergine and toasted salted pita bread the conversation turned to national identity. Both of us, my writer friend and I, have lived in several countries although Switzerland has been our most recent and longest place. She has the Swiss nationality that I am waiting for.
She objected to the term expat. It was one of those “clicks” that Ms magazine used to talk about. Ex-pat, ex-wife, ex-husband, ex-employee. Pat for patriot. No longer a patriot. Negative feeling really.
Many in the expat community never integrate any more than some of the poor refuges, don’t learn the language and never associate with the locals. Others spend their time putting down their hosts. “You know you’ve been in Switzerland too long when you think it is normal to only have one brand in a supermarket of each type of product” remarks abound. If it is said with humour it is one thing. If it is a put down it is another.
As anyone who knows me, understands that I no longer feel at home in the country of my birth while wanting the country to be preserved. I despair for the current politics that is seeing us turn into an international bully, run up a deficit that could sink the world economy, cut what little social safety net the people have to smithereens and destroy the environment as we run around like little pac men eating up the planet. What we are doing has little to do with democracy and a lot of to do with out-of-control capitalism. This does not mean that I do not want America to survive and preferably with the values that it has claimed for years to avow. Because of an accident of the timing of my birth the country gave me a strong base and opportunities that aren't available today.
I do feel at home both in Switzerland and in France, neither place which is perfect. I prefer to think of myself as a repat. I have been repatriated into another culture and lifestyle. Naturally the Swiss and the French have their own national myths. Many of the French national myths at the moment are burning along with the cars.
National myths usually are a goal worth aiming for they talk about the better part of their societies.
Meanwhile I will rename myself as a repat, however, I won’t change the title of this blog.