What’s in a name?

Photo: Fingerlakes, NY, taken the night before the Wineglass Marathon!

It was brought to my attention recently that the term “expat” can be considered by some to have a bad connotation, and implies certain things about a person’s national origin and status.  I was really surprised to hear this, as this is the legal term (well, expatriate is) used to describe a person living in a foreign country, and according to the dictionary definition is the correct term for a person living in another country.  The word immigrant doesn’t apply to me, as I’m here for a relatively fixed period of time and won’t be able to settle in the UK permanently.  I intend to return home to the US.  So for now, I stick to expatriate, or the lengthier explanation of, well I’m an American, but I’m living in the UK for a few years, not sure quite how long yet.  We’re here because my partner’s position got transferred here.

Do you identify as an expat? Do you find the term offensive? If so, how do you describe your situation to others?

Another controversial term is the “trailing spouse.”  Some people find it offensive because it implies that they are simply following their significant other around the world, having no say in the outcome.  Others have no problem and take pride in it.  I tend to dislike the term a bit, because I considered our move here to be a joint effort and decision, and to call myself a “trailing partner” implies the opposite.  I realize that in some senses I am definitely not the “leading partner” because I’m here on a dependent visa, but still…I’d like to think we’re both in this together.

What are your feelings on the term “trailing spouse?”  Would you use it to describe yourself?

Please debate, I am really curious as to how others feel about these terms!

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Michael says:

    I haven’t heard the term “expat” being used as something negative. I consider it more neutral one.

    As to the “trailing spouse” – it does sound derogative. How about “co-relocator”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I found this article on the guardian, among other blogs and opinions: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/13/white-people-expats-immigrants-migration
      I don’t necessarily agree that it is true because I have met people from various countries and races that identify as expats.

      I like the term co relocator!


    2. I love that – “co-relicator!” Much better!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I got really cross with that Guardian article – it uses race/skin colour as a divider which is ridiculous. There are plenty of black diplomats, for example! There is a discussion to be had around the grey area of why some people (eg eastern Europeans moving to the UK) get called immigrants and others (eg Brits moving to south of Spain) seem to be expats. But generally I think expats is a well recognised term and means someone moving to another location for a determined amount of time, with the full intention of moving back to their home country eventually. That’s my take on it anyway!

    As for the term “trailing spouse” I did a bit of research into this when I was coming up with my book title. I eventually decided on Expat Partner (The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide) and wrote a blog post about this process – http://expatpartnersurvival.com/tag/writing/. But during this research I did realise that the term trailing spouse has now become too derogative and most people didn’t like it anymore. I still use it a bit in the book as it’s very evocative, but generally I stick with the far duller expat partner or accompanying spouse. Co-relocator is good too!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree with your take on the article, it was very frustrating to read and wonder how many actually feel that way. It seems like most people don’t find it offensive and it is the technical term so I can stick with it.
      Expat partner is a less exciting but more PC term. I like it better than trailing spouse, because it implies more of a partnership than a leader/follower relationship.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I enjoyed this discussion. I have heard the term expat used to describe the 12,000 American living in a place like San Migel , Mexico-some folks think that this group of people move there and then try to change the culture to fit their norms. I have not been there and really have no working knowledge of this description.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is an interesting topic, and a stereotype that I (even as an expat) was unfamiliar with. I don’t think that all expats try to change the culture, but I could see how some could give the term a bad reputation.


  4. I wouldn’t fancy being a “trailing spouse,” expat however no issues with that – it always struck me as a positive thing, never realised some think it is a negative term.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t either until someone commented on a post about it and brought it to my attention, and I was curious as to how others felt.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Gabi says:

    I don’t see anything negative in the word expat, it is just a definition. I don’t live in my home country but I don’t consider myself an expat, Milan is only 1500 km away from my hometown and I have never felt a foreigner here. The things changes when I moved to Bangkok for 6 months, there, yes,I considered myself an expat.


  6. Interesting point, I suppose I would feel less like an expat/foreigner if I lived in say Canada instead of the UK because it is much more similar to the U.S.


  7. I’ve read similar articles about the distinction between expat and immigrant based on skin colours. They claim that you will never hear an Arab coming to the UK to work being called an expat. They will call it an immigrant. And people often think that the name expat is a term for white people and that’s it’s quite offensive. Everyone should be called immigrant.

    I disagree with these people, and like you, I think expat is for short term whereas immigrant are for long term commitment. But I don’t think it’s linked to skin colour.

    As for the “trailing spouse”, I’ve never heard of that term ! I think I’m a trailing partner but I have no problem with that. I think it’s quite courageous to leave everything behind for the the man/woman you love and be prepared to start over 🙂

    Great post !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, it is courageous (and really hard) to leave everything behind to move with a partner to a new country! And regarding the expat vs immigrant debate, I saw interesting billboards in Manchester this weekend profiling the positive influence immigrants have had on the UK, including several Americans. So I don’t think the term immigrant is always negative, just different.


      1. I agree with you on that ! 🙂


  8. angharadeyre says:

    I’ve heard ‘trailing talent’ used to make the trailing spouse feel better. In terms of ‘expat’ I think it’s about an implicit attitude. The fact that many British expats identify as such stresses that they’re sticking with their own culture and treating the stay in another country as temporary. There’s an implication (rightly or wrongly) that they don’t want to integrate or contribute to their host culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point, it’s hard to fully integrate if you know it’s a temporary stay. It’s also hard to meet locals when you come over and the only people you know are from your home country and you have the entire moving process/new country in common and you have little in common with locals, but part of the benefit of living abroad is learning about the local culture.

      Trailing talent is an interesting term. For me though, it’s the trailing part that bothers me, not the lack of talent 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I have always understood the difference between “immigrant” and “expatriate” to be defined by a person’s intentions as to the length of time on staying in a country outside of your native one. Expats are outside of their passport country for a finite amount of time determined by many factors (employment, education, assignments, contracts, etc.) Immigrants, in contrast, have intentions of relocating to establish new citizenship and with it the associative benefits of the new country. I think there is merit and validity to both paths and racial origins should have no bearing on either label or it’s pros or cons.


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