Short stay, another one of those words, you know?

Expats come and go. They don’t integrate, don’t learn Dutch. But they do live in our houses. Oh yeah… And, they’re arrogant. An anthology of what you might hear at a birthday party. As you may have sensed: this isn’t the whole truth of the matter. If it were, your average expat would strongly resemble your Uncle Bob.

Uncle Bob is an eccentric, egotistical godfather. You don’t understand a word he says. He’s a stubborn bloke, who lives alone in a house big enough for an entire family. That said: he is intelligent. And he has money. So the family forgives him his funny ways.

Most people reading this will have an Uncle Bob. And there will, no doubt, be a handful of expats who do fit this image. The stereotype has to have originated from somewhere, after all. Luckily, for every Uncle Bob, there are 100s, if not 1000s of Uncle George’s. Quality fellas.

But I shall spare you Uncle Bob and Uncle George’s family trees. I will, however, fill you in on the background of the expat. We may even find an explanation for our prejudices.

Let us first look at the term expat. It comes from the Latin ex (out of) patria (fatherland). An expat is therefore a person who resides outside of their country of origin. In English, the term expat historically referred to European migrants who’d travelled to independent America in the early 19thcentury.

Through this expatriation, they avoided being controlled by the government of their country of origin. What’s more, importantly, they could also get American citizenship. During the 20th century, we see migration in the opposite direction. The term expat now referred to migrants leaving America and losing their civic right and duties. Artists who’d been deported, for instance.

Around the year 1960, the term expat gained its current meaning. After WWII, many Americans left their country for love or business. The term expat became commonplace in the commercial world once the labour market became internationalised.

However, none of this explains the negative connotations of the word expat. Associations with the word date back to the benefits that the colonisers enjoyed. Such as protection from local jurisdictions. But also to being in those very same circles, and the sense of superiority that surrounded them. Today’s expat is still branded with these qualities. Unjustly so.

Internationals, as we like to call expats, are average earners who do their best to integrate. They are often stripped of their expat allowance. And they are usually having to compete on our tough housing market with just one income for the whole family. And while it’s true that few of them speak Dutch, remember that not all scientists have a knack for languages.

Uncle Bob doesn’t, for one. But that doesn’t stop us from inviting him to family gatherings. And softly-softly, his icy exterior melts. There is hope, after all. Because looking different or not speaking the same language doesn’t exclude you from humanity.

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