English local elections 2013: a linguistic conundrum

Yesterday’s local elections in England saw the UK Independence Party (UKIP) win a remarkable 25% of the vote. Immigration is a key concern of many UKIP voters, including immigration from EU countries.

In 1978, I moved from the UK to Italy, where I lived until 2002. I’m pretty sure that, as viewed from the United Kingdom, I wasn’t a British “immigrant” in Italy but an “expatriate”. The same applies to all of the many Brits who now live in Spain or Tuscany or other parts of the European Union. Not to mention the US and the rest of the world.

So why are Brits in foreign lands “expats”, and foreigners moving to Britain “immigrants”?

Any thoughts?

By Marian Dougan 

2 Responses

  1. For me the difference between “expat” and “immigrant” is the notion of permanence – an expat is seen as someone temporary (even when it’s for 24 years as in your case, or getting on for 20 years as in my case!), while immigration has something definitive about it – immigrants don’t normally go back to live in their native lands.
    I would imagine that some of those referred to as immigrants by politicians and journalists probably think of themselves as expats, while others concerned probably don’t know themselves!

  2. I’m curious to see what will happen with UKIP in the future. It seems they’ve earned themselves an acceptable face of the kind that prevents the BNP from gathering any momentum. Thanks to trouble in Europe, and the failures of the Con-Lib coalition, they’ve managed to soak up a lot of protest votes.

    As for being expats, it’s an interesting one. When you say you were considered an expatriate in Italy, is that from other Brits living there, or from Italians? Is there a particular distinction in Italian? Do they also use different words to refer to newcomers to Italy and Italians abroad?

    To be honest, my first instinct would be to consider it a case of stereotypical British hubris, and the idea that we believe immigrants in Britain move there because they are attracted to the country (for whatever reason). Brits themselves, on the other hand, don’t leave their homeland behind, but merely live outside of it (in order to enjoy the better weather, food, health care and so on). I suppose we see that in the changed sense of the word ‘expatriate’, from referring to someone banished/exiled from their home country, to basically someone living outside it.

    Incidentally, living in Germany it’s interesting to see the terms for immigrants also affected by political correctness here, with one of the current popular choices being “people with a background of migration”!

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