Tuesday, April 24, 2007

April 23rd, Foreigners and Aliens

I spent far too much of yesterday obsessively searching for a half-remembered quote from a book (but which book?) on the subject of April 23rd.

My garbled memory of the passage tells me that April 23rd is not only Saint George's day but also Shakespeare's birthday and Dantes' birthday (or perhaps deathday). For this reason, in some countries (which countries?) the date is associated with literature and it is traditional to give the gift of a book on this day (but to whom?).

I didn't give any bookish presents yesterday but I did join BookMooch which I'd been meaning to do ever since Heather told me about it.

While I was fruitlessly skimming though books looking for the elusive passage (I could clearly visualise it three-quarters of the way down a right-hand page), I came across this much more interesting paragraph about the difference between expatriates and foreigners. I've never liked the term ex-pat and in fact I hadn't ever heard it bandied about much until I started reading so-called ex-pat blogs. Alasdair Reid explains what the word means to him in Whereabouts: Notes on being a Foreigner, a book I mentioned in my last post.
[Expatriates] have left their own countries on a long lead, never quite severing the link with home, never quite adapting themselves to their exile, clinging to one another for company, haunting post-offices, magazine stands, and banks, waiting expectantly for money from home, anything at all from home. Expatriates are generally getting their own countries into perspective, to the point where they feel strong enough, or desperate enough, to return to them. Foreigners, conversely, live where they are, leaving their pasts and countries behind them for the place they take root in. In one sense, they are lucky: they are free to enter a new context unencumbered, with clear eyes, and are often able to savor a place in a way that escapes the inhabitants, for whom it has become habit. But however well a foreigner adapts himself to a place and its inhabitants, however agile he becomes in the lore and the language, there is a line he can never cross, a line of belonging. he will always lack a past and a childhood, which is really what is meant by roots.

The picture above which is me à la Modigliani (and yes, I have to agree, I look more alien than foreign) was created here. You too could see what you would look like if you were black/white/asian/a man/woman etc.


Jonathan said...

Perhaps the true definition is even simpler than that: ex-pats can't vote.

The Modigliani ain't bad. Naturally I tried to transform myself into a monkey, but I don't have Java, so it wouldn't work. Probably just as well.

deborah said...

Just finished Driving over lemons which enjoyed and Chris Stewart quite kind on the whole about his fellow 'ex-pats', don't think he uses the word.
Was surprised he didn't mention Gerald Brenan who got there first!
I wonder if there are any Spaniards living in the mountains in Scotland ... other nationalities can sometimes be even more ex-pattish than the 'Brits' (another word with curious connotations). L says the Chinese in her area in Madrid don't write the menus in Spanish in the local restaurants! Must look up a few animal ideograms ...
However the food was wonderful in China where I have just been. I keep wanting to go up to people here and say 'you must be Chinese, I loved everything in China'

I could write a long list of all the pleasures of being a foreigner, I'll start with feeling free to say and wear what I like because one is always forgiven : bon, elle est anglaise ...

deborah said...

... and somehow the word 'Brits' only conjures up the tedious English by the way (why is that)? the ones who need cups of tea wherever they go and snigger if they get served hot milk and not cold ...

Lucy said...

Aren't we just horrible about each other, far worse I'm fairly sure than most of our hosts ever are, and hoping no-one's saying the same kind of things about us?
I still don't like to think about myself as an ex-pat, though I guess I am, we wait for money from home and I still prefer my books, films, papers, computer software etc in English, I don't think I 'cling' or 'haunt', that sounds a bit sad and pathetic and I don't feel that way; I use the word (ex-pats) but only usually about other people or in a very generalised way. I never would have thought of myself as a Brit but find I do call myself one now, not with any particular pride, it's just a flag of convenience. As many of my non-French acquaintance aren't British anyway I might refer to them as English-speakers or anglophones, Europeans, or foreigners or whatever.
I think Jonathan's definition is fairly aposite, if I could vote I'd probably make more effort to get clued up about the political scene, and my British vote seems more and more pointless and will expire fairly soon.
Absolutely true you can't cross the line of belonging; I wouldn't even try and am quite happy that way, but feel less and less rooted in English ( I am, not Welsh,Scottish or Irish) culture; I don't want to go back and couldn't anyway, like many I accept I've burned my bridges,and did from the start. French people may smile in a reassuring and reassured way when I say 'ici, c'est mon coin' and to a point it's true, but only really because I've made it home through time and patience and attachment to particular places,things and people, and commitment to follow through a decision. It helps, I suppose that I've no parents,children, or grandchildren there to be a pull.
Anyway, seem to have written rather more than the average comment. I mean to come here more often.

deborah said...

Enjoyed reading that pertinent comment, Lucy.

I agree about the line of beloniging, I am happy that way, it is just not a problem, on the contrary!