Strictly speaking, yes I am an expatriate, but I cringe when I am referred to as an “expat” — the colloquial shortened form of the word. I am not quite sure why this is. It could be that I do not like to be associated with some of the negative connotations that have come to be associated with several “ex-pat” communities; or if I know consider myself to be a proper European who can live anywhere in Europe — or something else entirely.
Yes, I was born in the UK, raised in the UK, and still have a UK passport. My coloring and skin type is most definitely English, as is my language. However, now I have moved here and have little or no intentions of returning to the UK to live I think I am evolving into something else — something more than an expat!
I have deliberately steered clear of anything expat. I did not come to Portugal to be surrounded by my fellow countrymen. I came here to explore a different culture and to discover a different way of life — maybe to embrace being European — or even become Portuguese.
If we were living in the days of the British Colonies, I suspect I would be talked about in hushed but slightly depressed tones: “such a shame she went native.” I know I have been referred to as “Rabiet’s Englishwoman” and “the cat lady ” amongst other things by the locals. More and more I am greeted in Portuguese and treated as Portuguese.
I am also embracing the culture and behavior of my new country. I soon learnt to walk on the shady side of the street, to take a siesta, have at least six brushes/brooms in the house — to deal with the dust — and most importantly not to expect miracles or even good service, compared to the UK, from any arm of the state bureaucracy or national industries. I have had to relearn how to accept gifts and genuine kindness — not everyone here has a hidden agenda — I have had to lose my finely tuned English cynicism.
This feeling of acceptance and genuine welcoming into the local community has snowballed over the last couple of months where people have been coming forward to help us move. We were lent trailers, we have been offered extra land for the orchard, our drainage has been dug — but not yet completed — our bathroom fixed, our pool erected, plants and trees donated, parts collected and, last but not least, “M” who has been helping all the way through, has delivered onions, garlic, tomatoes and potatoes, and our landlord’s mother gifts us with fresh warm bread at regular intervals.
I think this has to be the best reason for refusing to be an expat and to live in a colony of expats!