No one likes a whiny expat. There are books upon books written for expats relocating to yet another new country, and one of the most common themes is “Don’t criticize”. Australians even coined the term “Whinging Poms”* for the legions of Brits who’d go out there and then complain about everything from the heat to the spiders. Reminds me of an old joke – A Brit had almost saved his fare back to the UK but needed another quid to buy a ticket. He asked an Aussie “Can you give me a quid to get back to the UK?” The Aussie said, “Sure, here’s a fiver- take four other whinging Poms back with you.”
*Whinging is a word of British origin meaning whining or complaining. The “g” is soft, like a “j”. A Pom is a semi-derogatory name for Brits; the etymology is somewhat vague but this is a great explanation.It’s not surprising that natives get a bit irritated when they hear non locals putting down their customs, food, language, education system, and so on. How would you like it if someone moved in next door to you and then basically denigrated everything you did, said or ate? I’m wondering though, at what point the criticism becomes acceptable? When it is appropriate for an expat to voice a criticism of his of her host country? How long do you have to have lived there, and under what circumstances?
I recently became embroiled (by choice ) in a in a US/UK bun fight about supermarkets, of all things. Yes, you read that correctly.
The tone of the post was critical of US supermarkets but 100% hyperbole, or, in British terms “taking the piss”. I joined in saying that I missed the “sparkly” supermarkets in the UK and, as expected, it wasn’t long before the author and I were barraged with comments like – “It’s puzzling why hundreds of thousands of people would voluntarily leave the Shangri-La that is the UK only to move to such a sub-standard land as is the US. (sic) Discussing the differences between the countries can be incredibly interesting but the constant whinging about how awful most aspects of life in the US is serves no positive purpose. If you want your life here to be identical to the life you had in the UK then why bother leaving in the first place?” And –“ You don’t like it? go home! Akin to someone coming inside your home (uninvited) and wanting to re-arrange your furniture.”
I’m so used to hearing this stuff it doesn’t bother me in the least. Free speech and all that. It did raise a question about my own situation though. I’ve been in the USA for twenty-three years now; I’m an American citizen. At what point am I allowed to raise legitimate concerns or even – gasp – criticize the USA without being told to go home? Do parts of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (in this case) only apply to people who were born here? Fiercely-guarded Freedom of speech is off limits to immigrants? If you’re a naturalized citizen like me, it seems you have no business making suggestions, or criticizing the way certain things are done. Not only does it provoke ire among the natives, it’s also automatically assumed that I’m comparing the USA unfavorably with the UK, even when I don’t even mention the UK. I’m long past the point of saying “back home…”.
I vote, I pay a lot of taxes, and I think it’s my duty as a citizen to engage in discussion and debate on a wide variety of political matters. Whether it’s fighting in other countries or fiscal responsibility here, my voice counts and my thoughts deserve to be heard along with everyone else’s. Unfortunately, in my experience, it will forever sound like I’m just another whinging Pom, or Limey, as they say here.
I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of other long-term expats around the world.
Toni Summers Hargis has a new book – “The Stress-Free Guide to Studying In the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students”. (Summertime). She is also the author of “Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom” (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.
Read Toni's other Expat Focus articles here.