It occurred to me that when I started the half-drunken ramblings of this blog, I used the term ‘expat’ a lot. Like A LOT. I recently read something about the difference between being an ‘expat’ and an ‘immigrant’ – in truth, it appears that there is no difference, except for the fact that rich white folks tend to label themselves as ‘expats’ when they move to a new country because the term ‘immigrant’ has become loaded with negative connotations. This is due in part to people like the one-man orange plague in the White House and the overstuffed middle-aged Ken doll who – at least for now – is in charge of the UK.
After realising that there is no difference except wrongly-assumed superiority, I hereby take back every mention of the word ‘expat’ I ever used. I am an immigrant.
Anyway, while I was thinking about that, I also started thinking about my own immigrant status. I recently celebrated two years living and working in Spain. Not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but long enough that I now forget English words, I walk more slowly and I cannot imagine the concept of life without a siesta. It’s true, Spain is more relaxed than the UK, and that’s something I have embraced. But there are times where I still feel like an alien – almost as much as when I first arrived two years ago, moderately depressed and tragically monolingual. However, the same thing now happens to me in the UK. I made a grand total of four trips home this year to help with preparation for my sister’s wedding, but even with these additional trips, I still felt like I didn’t belong anymore.
So when do we actually become part of our adopted countries? For me, right now it’s a 50/50 split. Here are some ways in which I now appear to be more Spanish than English – if not on paper, then at least in my brain:
1) I’m now late for everything. Even work sometimes. This is not to say that nobody cares about timekeeping in Spain, it’s just that it’s a little less rigid than in the UK. It does, however, mean that when plans are casual, I’ll be at least an hour late.
2) Lunch can last as long as three hours. DON’T RUSH ME, I’m enjoying myself.
3) I honestly prefer to speak Spanish than English now. Not just because I think it’s a beautiful language, but because I’m still amazed that I managed to learn a language in less than two years and can speak it reasonably well (one time, I actually passed for Spanish at a party. This is hilarious, given that the average height of women here is a LOT shorter than mine, and also because I look like Germany and the Netherlands came together and gave birth to a giant Barbie). I’m also extremely ashamed of the tendency native English speakers have to force their language on everyone, wherever they go.
4) I’ve adopted a different diet. Of course I still enjoy 6976 chicken nuggets every now and then, but whatever. The stereotypical Mediterranean diet is not only healthier, but delicious. WE HAVE BETTER VEGETABLES HERE, PEOPLE.
5) Any excuse for a party or celebration, I’m there. Wait, I was always like that…
So a lot of the time, I feel increasingly Spanish. With some recent exciting work opportunities popping up, I’ve decided that I’ll most likely be here indefinitely. So how long until I feel truly adopted by my new home country? Another two years? Five? One thing’s for sure, I still feel very British sometimes, and it pops up at random times with things like:
1) Complaining about the weather. I still do this a lot, even though arguably things are a lot better here than back home (January doesn’t count, it sucks everywhere).
2) Queuing. I LOVE QUEUING, the national British sport. I do it even when I don’t need to (I almost died several times in China because I mistakenly thought queuing for metro tickets was correct protocol. It is not).
3) I still put ketchup on a lot of my food. I blame both my parents and my primary school for this, although I’ve been weaning myself off it unless it’s absolutely necessary.
4) I never order ice in my drinks. This has become the subject of an ongoing joke at one of my places of work, people think I’m insane. I was once denied a G&T because the ice hadn’t arrived yet. IT’S COLD ENOUGH OUTSIDE FFS.
5) I get excited about Christmas things like the John Lewis TV advert and the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special (it’s coming back y’all!) Like, comically excited, and we’re not even in December yet.
I give it another two to three years before I become fully Spanishized. Maybe less, given that the current political situation in my home country makes me want to change my nationality permanently. That said, I’ll always have a deep, unconditional love for Cadbury’s chocolate. Suck it, Milka…