Are you wondering whether you’ll be an expat for the rest of your life? Until about a year or so ago I was, but now I’m sure I will be. After living in Sevilla for nine years it’s been a constant battle in my mind whether or not to make that permanent plunge and be an expat in Spain forever. I still get that odd craving to quit my job, pack up everything in a caravan and drive around the world, I still might one day, but I belong here now, at least for the time being anyway.
How do you know whether you’ve become a life-long expat?
Here are some sure signs.You speak in a weird mixed nationality language
I wouldn’t say I was fluent in Spanish, my pronunciation and grammar could definitely do with some fine tuning, but I understand pretty much everything. I even have a slight Andaluz accent (probably not a good thing). People often ask me what language I speak at home, my wife (who used to be my student) is Spanish and we communicate in a weird Spanglish language. I know what she understands in English and she knows what I understand in Spanish, so we get by. We would do well in Gibraltar, where the locals often mix the two languages in the same sentence. I find it fun mixing the two languages together and I prefer certain expressions in each language.
It’s understandable that expats in Spain have adopted useful language and phrases to communicate with each other. Most long term expats here tend to ignore the English question tag (e.g. you come from Japan, don’t you?) and just stick a ‘no?’ on the end instead. It must sound awful to anyone who hasn’t lived here for a while, but it’s accepted among us.
No place like home
I’ll always refer to my folks place as home, the house where I grew up from the age of about thirteen. The longer I stay here though, the more comfortable I feel and the more I consider it to be my own abode. I’m sure once I buy a place (maybe ‘once’ should be ‘if’), then it will really start to feel like my own home. A place where I’ll watch my children grow and develop, and they will call home too; unless they fall in love with someone of a different nationality.
To be a long-term expat you have to really think that you can live where you are for the rest of your life, picture your kids there, and imagine growing old and senile. Sometimes I see old boys walking about Sevilla and wonder if I’ll still be here when I’m retired, walking about moaning about the youth of today and still being asked by the locals whether or not I’m Spanish.
The buzz disappears
I used to love waking up and being excited about where I was living. I did it every day when I travelled round the world and lived in several countries. It didn’t take long after waking up before I was thinking ‘yeah, I’m teaching in Thailand’ or ‘I’m living the dream in Spain.’ When you’re an expat it happens a lot less. The first thing I normally think of now when I wake up is whether it’s my turn to get up and make a bottle.
Now and then during the week I get time to stroll round the city centre and remember that I live in a beautiful place where the sun shines more than 300 days a year and appreciate how lucky I am. But more often than not I forget I’m living abroad and just get on with life, being an expat has become part of the norm now.
Routine sets in
Monday morning is always Monday morning, no matter where you are in the world. My week is full of things to do, looking after my kid and dog, going food shopping, paying the bills, worrying whether or not we’ll get through the month, all the usual things that you do in most normal lives.
Teaching English has turned into my career and I can’t see myself doing anything else. Of course I dream of being a professional novelist, hoping that the novel I’m writing will get picked up by a publisher and they’ll ask me to write a trilogy; you have to keep the dream alive. But days and weeks tend to blend in together, especially in Sevilla when it feels as though we’ve been in summer for the last six months.
Others remind you of what it used to be like
I love meeting people who have just arrived in the city. They are so keen to explore the place and Andalucía, planning trips away at the weekend, getting to know what the locals are really like, and learning Spanish. I often see myself in them, all those years ago. I sound like a right old fart, I guess I’m exaggerating slightly. In some ways I’m jealous. I miss that buzz of exploring a new place.
I have a lot of great memories here though and when I walk about the city I think of all the excellent moments I’ve had, and hopefully will continue to have.
Part of the furniture
I used to do this strange thing in my head when I was travelling that if I walked about a city and kept bumping into people that I knew then I’d have to leave. I know, a bit weird. Now when I walk about Seville and bump into people I know, not teachers or expats, but locals, then I realise that I’ve become part of the furniture.
I always used to have a dream of living abroad, walking down the high street and stopping to chat to the local butcher or baker. Now I do. I often bump into people I know, mainly students, but also people that I’ve met over the years.
Do you show any of these signs? Are you a long-term expat? Leave a comment and let me know.
Barry O’Leary has been an expat in Seville for nearly ten years. When he’s not teaching English, he writes a blog A Novel Spain which is about how he sees life in Spain. He has also lived and taught English in Brazil, Ecuador, Australia and Thailand and travelled around the world in the meantime. His non-fiction travel literature book, Teaching English in a Foreign Land, about his adventure as a TEFL teacher has sold over 2,500 copies.