23/05/2010

The Ex-Pat Manifesto (or Patriotism is Over-rated).


This week's charter brings you the ex-pat life. Both Marianne and I have experienced it. She lived in Cuba (yes, Cuba!) for nine months, and I've spent more time out of France (12 years in Britain and 10 years in Turkey) than in France. So we thought we'd have something to say!

Turns out I have almost too much to say in fact. I'm not sure I can remember what it's like not to be an ex-pat, I wasn't yet eighteen when I moved out. So instead of wasting good tv-watching time rummaging through 22 years of life, I decided to pick on what someone else had said and offer you a little rant. So here goes.

[Please do the sums. Not yet 18 plus 22 = not yet 40. I'm not 40 yet. Do your sums.]



In the run up to the British elections J.K.Rowling explained that she'd rather pay taxes and support the welfare state than live as a tax exile. One of her reasons for choosing this was that she didn't want her children to grow up as ex-pats. In her Times Online article she said:

I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles.

I think it's great that Ms Rowling puts her money where her mouth is - there aren't many people who'd sacrifice a fortune just to do the right thing. And as a single mother during the Thatcher years she didn't exactly get much out of the welfare state herself. But she does let said mouth run away a bit. She makes it sound like those who are ex-pats by choice are a cross between thugs and drones, people who neither contribute to nor benefit from their national wealth, be it economic or cultural.

So here I beg to differ. Sure, my family and I don't actually contribute economically to either France or Britain (but we pay Turkish taxes!). Nor are our children steeped in either British or French culture. (Well, they go to a French school, and they watch BBC Prime).

But we do contribute! And we do benefit! Just not to or from one nation in particular.

I'll come out on a limb here, and I'll say that to a large extent to be an ex-pat is to be cosmopolitan. As Seneca put it, before he slashed his wrists in the bath (he had his reasons), that means you see your moral allegiance as stretching beyond the boundaries of the country you happened to be born in and as far 'as the horizon' (ok, that doesn't work if you're surrounded by mountains, but you catch my drift). So my husband and I teach philosophy. Not, I grant you, as beneficial to the world as developing cheap medicine for the third world, say, or fighting zombies. But we teach a lot of students who go on to work in international relations and politics, or become teachers, or anything really. So if we can help them think a little more critically, we feel we're doing our bit for the world. Not just for Britain, or for France, but for the world.

As far as culture is concerned, our children are steeped not only in Turkish culture (some of it a bit older than English culture, I believe) but also international culture. That is, they are not fazed by having to hold a conversation in several languages at once (at least our daughter isn't - our son is fazed by holding a conversation, but that's another story.) They understand that people have different traditions, different beliefs, not because it's something they're taught at school but because it's part of their daily lives. And of course, there's the incredible amount of culture they receive just by living in Turkey, by holidaying in Cappadocia, on the Aegean, or going to Istanbul. No museum is ever going to offer them as rich an experience of the civilizations they sprung from!

So sure, I don't have much respect for those people who leave Britain just so as not to pay their taxes, if there are such people. But not because they're ex-pats.

This was part 1 of our weekend charter. For part 2, click here.

Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed or the Google connect buttons (top left)? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

3 comments:

Very Bored in Catalunya said...

Couldn't agree more, there is no reason that ex-pat children can't benefit from having two cultures to draw from, not to mention several languages to speak with as well.

JulieB said...

I know it's a cliché, but I'm a great believer that home is where the heart is - whether that's your youth, the home of someone you fell in love with, or even if you just fell in love with the place, it doesn't really matter.

I spent a great deal of my childhood as an expat, yet strangely I always knew I wanted to come back to the UK, so when I was old enough to leave home, this is where I came. Went to university, met my husband... we've always talked about moving abroad, yet somehow it hasn't really happened, and once our eldest started school the possibility seemed to move further away (I know it is not impossible to move countries with school-age children, I did this myself, but it's certainly not as easy any more).

Enjoy the best of all worlds - I'm jealous!

Sandrine said...

Thank you V.Bored. Yes, people do tend to assume that if you've got more than one culture you don't have a proper culture, that two halves doesn't add up to one. I think in this case it adds up to more than one, actually. I was just reading somewhere that the more languages a child has, the more able she is to understand people coming from different culture and the more empathetic!
Julie: you're absolutely right. To me home is wherever my children and husband are. Some days I feel(with Marianne's proviso that we should have a house, a job and live in a not completely totalitarian country) that I could feel at home almost anywhere. But some days I feel very unadventurous and the thought of moving just around the corner frightens me...

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