Why do some communities claim one label, while some groups can’t shake the other? This Thanksgiving, let’s call the whole thing off.
In many ways, I come from a classic American family. My parents—who moved to the United States from Britain 30 years ago for work and became citizens nearly two decades later—have no intention of ever leaving their adopted homeland. Over the years, their first-generation American children have had to explain to them the finer points of U.S. culture: the significance of a homecoming game, what a grade point average is, and why it was necessary to take a limousine to high school prom. Much to my surprise, they even pronounce “tomato” with a long “a" these days. Despite all that, I do not consider my parents immigrants. Moreover, I’ve never heard them use that word to describe themselves.
Thanks to several centuries of ruthless empire building, the narrative of plucky British immigrants ‘making it’ abroad is one you don't hear very often. Rather, when Brits move abroad they’re far more likely to be called “expats,” a label that conjures up images of sunburned British skin not used to a warm climate and a career in industries like diplomacy, media, or finance. So, if Brits who move to another country aren’t “immigrants,” but rather, “expats,” what exactly is the difference between the two terms? Does the answer lie simply lie in the country one started in, or does it have to do with one’s intention when they arrive in a new place?