Hi, my name is Pat and I’m an expat living here in the Algarve. And yup, you guessed it – I’m an American. At the moment, it’s not that socially convenient to be an American abroad. Almost everyone my lovely wife and I meet here in southern Portugal immediately recognises our accent and then enquires “Are you Canadian?” So far, this particular question is the first response to our greeting nearly 100% of the time – always asked with a hopeful tone.
Naturally, since we’re not from Canada, we say, “No, we’re American”. To which, our new acquaintances almost always ask, “So, what do you think about Trump?” Not, “What part?” or “Where exactly?” After all, the U.S. of A. is a vast country and folks living in New York can be quite different from those living in Texas, or Hawaii (yes, it’s part of the U.S.) or Utah, wherever that is, or my home state of Maryland. For example, where I’m from, people who live in Baltimore read different newspapers and follow different baseball and football teams than the residents of the suburbs of Washington D.C. less than 50 miles away. That’s not unlike Great Britain, which everybody understands.
However, Trump is the problem. While no one welcomes a statement preceded by the phrase “You Americans”, it is a fact that the guy got elected President and it is still the country that issued our passport. Neither my lovely wife nor I intend to defend his machinations, but we’re not going to disown our homeland either.
Which brings me back to the term expat, which is short for expatriate. Spelling is important and expat does not mean “expatriot,” which might mean somebody who is no longer patriotic. It simply means in our case that we think we’ve discovered a very suitable, affordable, scenic, historic and lovely place to retire – where English is generally spoken.
I have noticed that most Brits don’t refer to themselves as expats, even though they’ve lived in Lagos or Loulé for the past decade or so. Why should they? After all they still live in the EU and are equally at home whether on a sun-drenched beach near Faro or on the rain-soaked streets of London.
By comparison, if I were to move to North Dakota for example, or South Dakota (Why there are two Dakotas instead of simply Dakota is one of those unanswerable questions), I would not be an expat; I would still be a “pat”. So too, with all citizens of a unified Europe.
Oh, oh, wait a minute, do you think Brexit may eventually change all that, no matter how reassuring the British ambassador to Portugal was during her recent visit to the Algarve? Will the English, Irish or even those independent-minded Scots eventually come to consider themselves expatriates, just as people from South Africa, or the United States or even the much more popular Canada do now? Only time and some difficult negotiations ahead will tell.
I’m also fairly confident that the Trump problem is not going to go away, soon. I just hope that we’re all a little slower to fry everyone in the same skillet. Whether you voted to leave or to stay or for Hillary or “the Donald,” we’re all now lucky and clever enough to be residents of the Algarve and looking forward to a sunny spring.
By Pat, the expat
For the previous 10 years, Pat lived in Panama which used to be rated above Portugal as a top retirement destination (but not any more), where he wrote a column for a tourist publication.