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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Americans in Europe - Migrants or Expatriates?

"Terminology is a subtle yet momentous indicator of identity struggles broiling just beneath the surface of any poised composure... If I am "transplanted," "expatriated," or an "immigrant" - another term avoided by this community - I am "out" of my native group. I am excluded.  Marginalized.  I am that mutation of American individual that chooses to leave and remains away, remains missing.  There is a finiteness of my situation that I may not be comfortable with, though it is, after all, the result of my choice."

Extraordinary, Ordinary Women:  Questions of Expatriate Identity in Contemporary American Paris
Kelly Rogers

I used to refer to myself as a "guest" in France - something that today I find highly amusing. Here I was desperately trying to avoid the words in the Rogers quotation and, unintentionally, I selected what I thought was a fairly neutral, slightly humorous term, that I learned later has nasty connotations here in Europe - as in "guest worker."  It wasn't funny at all;  it was sad.  Hopefully, those who heard me use it in the early years had the wisdom and kindness to understand that here was a woman migrant in the grip of a terrible identity crisis.

Trying to make sense of that life lived "out" of my home country and culture has been a lifelong preoccupation.  At times I've felt slightly ashamed of that because the messages I get back is that contemplation along those lines is interdit because, after all, "You're living in France!"  So, shut up already or write us a pretty book about it that confirms all of our positive stereotypes about the life you surely must be leading.

Having a bit more gumption these days (I am a woman of a certain age now and no longer a sweet but naive child bride) my response to that is:  stereotypes, my friends, are simply excuses not to think.

Worse, I would argue that actively colluding with them is to bow to the tyranny of other people's expectations, something that that is hardly conducive to our growth as human beings.  To cease the search for meaning in the seminal events in our lives (and our reactions to them) is to be perpetually in a state of arrested development.  As Carl Jung said:
"The serious problems in life, however, are never fully solved.  If ever they should appear to be so then it is a sure sign that something has been lost.  The meaning and purpose of a problem seems not to lie in its solution but in our working at it incessantly.  This alone preserves us from stultification and petrification."
In the quest to confront those stereotypes, and to find models and research by which we can try to understand our own experience in a broader context,  we are hampered by the dearth of serious academic research into American emigration and identity.  The few that I have found and profiled here (like Gabrielle Varro, for example) were like spring water in the intellectual desert around these topics.

I was very pleased to see, however, that there is another work out that looks very promising.  The book is called Migrants or Expatriates?: Americans in Europe (Migration, Diasporas and Citizenship) by Dr. Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels of the Brussels School of International Studies.  More information about her study and her initial findings can be found here.  The book is the product of that research and I will be reading it and reviewing it here on the Flophouse.

Please note as well that Dr. von Koppenfels will be speaking in Paris this month on February 19.  This is an event sponsored by the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO).  I will be at this talk and I hope you'll join me. More information about how to register for this event can be found on the AARO website here.

I'm off to Montréal tomorrow morning.  Next Flophouse post will be from that fair city.


Kristin said...

I'm back, feeding my brain with these thoughtful posts! I have been guilty of feeding steriotypes, a few times, but-- and I love your child bride reference!--as I grow up as a woman and as a French resident, I too want to share an accurate view (from my own perspective, anyway). I never liked the term "expat", which sounds so unpatriotic. So what does that leave us with? You've given some choices here, each, as you note, with consequences! Call ourselves a guest, and we're taken one way, an "immigrant" and we sound exaggerated.

Yesterday my French daughter asked if I knew how to snap my fingers, and I answered with a demonstration. "Ah, she said. "My friends say Americans don't know how to do that!" Imagine that! I thought, about to have an identity crises of my own. And then my daughter laughed: "they love teasing me like that!"

Not sure I've stayed on topic, but a good laugh never hurts :-)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Kristin, I've fed them too in the past. I think we all do at some point. I'm reading a book right now called "Gilded Prostitution" which is about trans-atlantic marriages (American/Brits) between 1870 and 1914 and oh my the sterotypes. In some eras they were positive and in some they were downright ugly.

I think we are living a period right now where the sterotypes of the American abroad have taken a turn for the worse. Homelanders read about an American living in Paris or Provence and somehow extrapolate from all this: here is someone who is clearly well off and living a good life and there is no reason that they should not share the bounty with the home country in the form of taxes. That is the argument I hear over and over again.

I've got a story for you as well. I'm at my mom's house in Seattle and she's been stung by a bee and is going into shock. The medics arrive and start working on her and start asking me questions and contact information and I'm explaining that I'm sorry I don't live here but...

And the guy STOPS working on my mom, looks at me and says, "You live in Paris? That's so cool!"


Tim said...

I do have to wonder how much of homelanders attitudes and stereotypes are based on where from within you live or come from. For example I personally come from one of the wealthiest parts of the US and that has gotten even wealthier in my lifetime. I suspect thought someone who is from Kansas or Arkansas might have a different perspective.

*One issue with the really well off parts of the US is to the degree the US is "still" the worlds wealthiest countries places like Connecticut and Massachusetts still have some of the best career opportunities for people who well educated or have family ties to those states.

*I have never been to Seattle so I don't know what it is like compared to Paris(which I have been to). My assumption is that at least parts are fairly well off having said that if you look at the pure economic statistics MA and CT have been the two wealthiest US states since the United States was formed. Washington has never been better than middle of the pact.

Tim said...

One of the factoids I like to use is the top three senior plastic surgeons at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston are all EU born/citizens. Brigham's and its plastic surgery department are considered one of the best in the US if not the entire world. How many hospitals in Europe though have their top three plastic surgeons from the US. None that I know and I did some research on this.

One interesting factoid which might reflect on France in particular is the most prominent plastic surgeon in France Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard actually trained at Brigham's in Boston under Dr. Joseph Murphy(who conducted the first open heart transplant in 1954). Even though Dubernard was offered the opportunity to stay at Brigham's in Boston he choose to return to France. My hunch is the French have more national loyalty than other Europeans.

allou said...

This is a very interesting subject. I think a lot depends on where you came from and where you are now. I grew up in the US, but originate from EU. I remember the brainwashing - there is no better word for it - I was subjected to in the public school system in the US. Then (1960s/70s) it was proclaimed, also in Europe, as the (only)land of opportunities. Now things have changed for many "ordinary" (struggling middleclass) persons in the US. More seem to realise that many of us who left the US have a better quality of life than we would have had in the US, and better than the life they have over there - so "Paris is cool" so is London, Stockholm etc. Unless you are struggling to get by in a "less developed" country, or live in a warzone - there are plenty of places to have a good life, and the US is no longer at the top of the list. The US is still a place of opportunities for some persons, but not many of them are those already living in Europe, Canda, Australia, NZ etc.

Tim said...


I think you put it right it depends a lot on where you came from and where you are going. I am pretty young(came of age in the late 80s/early 1990s). I can still remember when Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA across from MIT was a barren wasteland. Today it is some of most valuable real estate in the US and is the center of the worldwide biotech/pharma industry. I am still "old" enough to remember the peep shows and run down bars along 42nd Street in Times Square in NYC. All of that is gone now. Unlike many American tourists I have also been to places like Aubervilliers and St Denis on the outskirts of Paris and know life really sucks in those places.

One difference between now in the 1960s are that Kendall Square and Manhattan are not meccas of the American "middle" class as it was known in the 50s and 60s. They are more like fortresses of the upper echelons of the cognitive elite and those lucky enough to be "from" those places. Only the best of the best intellectually actually have the skills to work in the biotech industry.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Tim, You're right Seattle has this rep for being kinda of a mecca for the high tech folks (Boeing, Microsoft, Adobe and so many others. But I remeber a different Seattle from the one folks see in the movies. My paternal grandparents lived out near the airport which was Ok but not wonderful. My maternal grandparents lived in a slum - a working class neighborhood in Seattle with burn out cars on the street and drug dealers everywhere. No idea what those places are like today but I do remember this: my grandparents blamed (among other groups) IMMIGRANTS for it.

@allou, Ah, thank you, thank you, thank you. Yes, that is exactly what I would say (and have said). So many great places to have a good life today. And in some, quite frankly, some folks could do a lot better in other countries than in the US. When I say this a lot of Americans don't believe me but it's true. And when I say that I'm not trying to hurt anyone or be nasty about the United States. I think it is a Good Thing that opportunity is there in many places now and not just a few. That looks like a better world to me.

Anonymous said...

while in Montreal, if it gets too blustery above ground, you might want to explore artsouterrain exhibits in the underground city
this years theme "foundations" or "ENRACINEMENT" is about migration and identity

Tim said...

At the risk of going all over the place off topic there some interesting historical factoids not very well known in Europe or America.

Having taken a class in college on the history of the city of Boston, in the years immediately after the US civil war many of Boston's elite became especially fond of France and to a lesser extent Italy. Some may find this suprising given Boston and New England's puritan heritage which is conventionally seen as anti continental Europe and especially anti Catholic. However, France during this period of time was under the rule of Napoleon III who despite his dictatorial rule instituted many social and education reforms that led to the foundation of modern day France. During this time period New England and Massachusetts were also undergoing many social and economic reforms similar to those of Napoleon the third.
One very notable connection between Paris and Boston is Baron Hausemann's renovation of Paris and filling and creation of Boston's Back Bay neighborhood and the additional creation of the Frederick Law Olmstead "Emerald Necklace" of public parks. If you ever get to Boston and the Back Bay Neighborhood you will notice it is oddly similar to Paris unlike lets say Scandinavian influenced Seattle with its largely wood construction. Commonwealth Avenue for example looks very much like a Parisian Boulevard such as Avenue Foch.

From wikipedia:
The plan of Back Bay, by Arthur Gilman of the firm Gridley James Fox Bryant, was greatly influenced by Haussmann's renovation of Paris, with wide, parallel, tree-lined avenues unlike anything seen in other Boston neighborhoods.[citation needed] Five east-west corridors -- Beacon Street (closest to the Charles), Marlborough Street, Commonwealth Avenue (actually two one-way thoroughfares flanking the tree-lined pedestrian Commonwealth Avenue Mall), Newbury Street and Boylston Street—are intersected at regular intervals by north-south cross streets: Arlington (along the western edge of the Public Garden), Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield, Gloucester, and Hereford.[11]
West of Hereford are Massachusetts Avenue (a regional thoroughfare crossing the Harvard Bridge to Cambridge and far beyond) and Charlesgate, which forms the Back Bay's western boundary.

Here are some pictures of Commonwealth Avenue. Notice the similarities between Paris Avenues(of perhaps the main Avenue right outside your house) and the Commonwealth Mall in Boston.
I will say much of the actual construction along Commonwealth Ave and the rest of the Back Bay ended being much more gothic in nature than Parisian desires of the creators of the neighborhood. Having said that there are some residences that literally look like they could be France.

I am curious where in Scandnavian inspired and wood centric Seattle one can find a house similar to the above.

Tim said...


Additionally have you ever been to the Sainte-Genevieve Biblotechque in Paris. Going back through my old college notes I remember that the Boston Public Library(also in the Back Bay neighborhood) is very much based off of Sainte-Genevieve. Unfortionately I never got there in my travels around Paris yet.,_McKim_Building

Charles Follen McKim's design shows influence from a number of architectural precedents. McKim drew explicitly on the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris (designed by Henri Labrouste, built 1845 to 1851) for the general arrangement of the facade that fronts on Copley Square, but his detailing of that facade's arcaded windows owes a clear debt to the side elevations of Leon Battista Alberti's Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini. The open-air courtyard at the center of the building is based closely on that of the sixteenth-century Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome. McKim also exploited up-to-date building technology, as the library represents one of the first major applications, in the United States, of the system of thin tile vaults (or catalan vaults) exported from the Catalan architectural tradition by the valencian Rafael Guastavino. Seven different types of Guastavino vaulting can be seen in the library.[2]

allou said...

you write "When I say this a lot of Americans don't believe me but it's true."
When I say it (as recently as 3 months ago while visiting old school friends my age) they do believe me - these are mostly middleclass folks struggling to keep footing and seeing their coming retirement years looking not so golden. So this may also depend on what age/status the folks one meets have. I am just so thankfull to live in a nation where my children received good taxfunded education right thru university and which enabled them to start their careers without debt - what a blessing! Enjoy Montreal!

Inaka Nezumi said...

"Migrant," to me, sounds like someone who is just passing through, peripatetic. The focus of the word is on the act of migrating.

"Immigrant," on the other hand, has an end-point -- this is where I have arrived, and this is where I intend to stay. The focus is on the destination.

"Expatriate" puts the focus on the origin, some kind of tethering, even if that is not where one's life is any more.

I'd have to say after a two decades I feel most like an immigrant, not like a migrant or expatriate. (To the extent that I have to be defined by where I came from at all, that is. To be honest, I mostly just feel like a member of the society where I live.)

Anonymous said...

Palgrave, the publisher of "Migrants or Expatriates", has a sample chapter of this book on its "Northern Europe" website. Link is: