Being an expat is a privilege. None actually knows you. None remembers you with a fanny pack and a walkman back in 1989, none can talk behind your back of all the times you got dumped by boyfriends because you were clingy and insecure. None knows how ridiculous your parents looked when they came to get you at parties that hadn’t properly started yet and none can make an accurate list of your past mistakes. Being an expat allows you a fresh start. Or many fresh starts, depending on how much you are ready to move in your life. And that’s why at some point I decided that the freedom of walking down the street in total anonymity was my Linus blanket, something I just couldn’t dispose of.
Unfortunately being an expat means other things too: none has tender, compassionates feelings for you when you look bad because none remembers your frustrating upbringing, with all the being dumped and the insecurities and the anxious, anti-social parents. If you look bad, people won’t come cheer you up with your favorite drink. They’ll just say you’re always in a bad mood, or haughty, or impossibly snob, or – simply – you don’t belong. When you are an expat people lack perspective on your life and judgements tend to be harsher. That’s something you should know before moving anywhere: people won’t be any more tender than they are when examining Beyonce’s cellulitis in tabloids minus the fact that you are not a celebrity.
I am a rather discreet person, who tends to shine and show only between known walls. Fifteen years an expat, and I pass as snob, generally cold and impossibly haughty. I have been seated next to fellow foreigners at any social event I have attended for the past decade. You know, foreigners always have more in common, they think. Even if they come from different continents or planets. They are both outcasts, and that create an instant bond. They think.
Then, suddenly, I got a promotion. While I was already looking for my usual table neighbor, a funny English guy who shares my fate of social outcast, I saw that forthe first time I was sitting next to a purebred Belgian. Is that an automatic raise , as in public administration? Will I get a small social acknoledgment every ten years of honest survival in the Low Land?
My purebred Belgian neighbor said over dinner that he had a secret to share. He always wanted to be a priest but he ended up getting married and having children. “Oh, so you changed your mind?” “Not really – he said – I still enjoy the idea of taking care of other people and alleviating their burdens”. And I am not kidding here.