Expat Culture

Food for Thought

At this table, two of us were French, one British, two American, and one Japanese. I’ve noticed that “expat” is a culture of its own, and if you are part of it, you can even be an expat in your own country. Those who were born and raised in New York City tend to have this expat spirit because, culturally speaking, this city is a separate country alienated from the rest.

I spent the last two years of high school in a suburb of Los Angeles where the original Back to the Future was filmed. The vast majority of the students were squarely American. I could not make any friends. The language barrier was certainly a big factor but it wasn’t just that. As soon as I moved to New York City, even with the same barrier, I quickly made many friends. None of them were Japanese.

One time I went back to Japan for a few weeks with my friend Jordan, a native New Yorker. He quickly tapped into the network of expats in Tokyo who were from many different parts of the world. Through it, he managed to get tickets for Beastie Boys’ concert. I was impressed.

Some expats hate their own countries but that’s not what binds them. Many expats like their countries just fine. They simply don’t identify themselves strongly with their countries. Ironically, those who have never lived anywhere else tend to identify more strongly with their countries.

I too felt defensive of my own country during those two years in California. But, if you live long enough in a foreign country, such defensiveness gradually fades because it feels silly; after all, if you like your country so much, why move out of it? You eventually transcend your national identity. This has an impact on other aspects of your identity because you realize how silly it is to identify yourself with what you are born with, like race and gender. It makes sense with what you consciously chose, like religion, political party, and career, but for many people, even these were chosen for them.

What expats have in common, I think, is their search for self. For whatever reason, they began to question the identities given to them. These are the people I connect with most easily.