I have never liked the word expat. It sounds funny: ecs-pah-t. And it’s not even a real word, it’s short for expatriate, “out of your country”, in other words, emigrant.
But in fact, it means a lot more. It means “I am not a native of this country, I come from a developed country, therefore I have money, and now live in a third world country”. Yes, I purposely used a non-politically correct term.
In the early 90’s, when I was a student in Canada, I was an immigrant. It was made painfully clear to me at every occasion. I was often cheated by store owners. My left-leaning doctoral professors with self-professed high interest in social justice, would, during class, make what they believed to be innocent jokes about my origins. Was that relevant to the course? No, but it made other students laugh (students always laugh at professors’ jokes) and therefore made those teachers feel good. I was later accused of stealing money from Canadian students when I received a merit scholarship I hadn’t applied for, since it was, y’a know, based on merit. I was told I was stealing jobs from Canadians when I looked for a summer job, which was allowed under my visa provisions, and required for my thesis.
You get the point. Being an immigrant sucks. My Colombian friend in Houston will tell you as much. But she’s not an expat, she’s an immigrant.
In India, we are not immigrants, we are ecs-pah-ts. We drop money left and right. We live in nice houses, we have cooks and drivers and maids and nannies.
And, boy, do we ever have a sense of entitlement!!!!
In the last few days, it has been made public that several expat women have recently been harassed, and assaulted while driving their own cars in Bangalore. This is very sad. On the flip side, last week, the principal at “my” school was mugged while walking a block from the school. Her laptop was stolen, and her shoulder seriously injured. That, as you guess, was not in the paper. Nor did it get the attention of the Police Commissioner who yesterday sat with about 15 expat women, with television cameras rolling and the whole shebang. Yes Ma’am, this is how important expats are here.
This brings two points. Some expat women clearly expect preferential treatment. I would have been perfectly ok if the meeting had been about women’s safety in the streets of Bangalore. But arranging a meeting to protect some women based on their citizenship is beyond contemptible. The 911 operators don’t speak an English you understand? Well, I have problems understanding certain English accents too. Should the operator be trained in every nuance of the English accents? And the fact that a few women told the Commissioner that Indian culture needs to change so (expat) women feel safer, reeks of modern colonialism.
Not all expats are created equal. There are the expats who run their own businesses who are better than the people on a company assignment with all expenses paid. There are expats who own their cars, who are better than those who have a driver. There are expats who only use tuk-tuks and public buses who are better than anyone. There are those who live in Indiranagar or Koramangala who are better than those who live in Whitefield. There are those who live in houses who are better than those who live in gated communities. There are those who are married to an Indian who are better than those who are not. There are those who have a paying job who are better than those who volunteer. There are those who tolerate spicy foods who are better than those who don’t. There are those who eat street food who are better than those who eat in five-star restaurants. There are those who travel the country by train who are better than those who travel by plane. There are the Caucasian who are better than Asians. There are those who learn Hindi who are better than those who don’t. There are native English speakers who are better than those who are not. There are the long timers who will (often) be very condescending to new comers. There are those who wear Indian clothes who are… this one I am not sure: you are either better because you’re assimilating, or you’re playing dress up and therefore a fake. The acceptable medium is an expensive 100% silk heavily hand embroidered kurta (tunic) with a draped shawl (but not worn dupatta style) over western pants. I don’t even know how Persons of Indian Origin fit into this list.
You know what? Go attach yourself to another object by an inclined plane, wrapped helically around an axis (*).
And at the bottom of the totem pole of foreigners, you’ll find students. When you go to the FRRO (immigration office), you’ll see white people sitting in the chairs in the morning. If there is a slight problem with your documents and you’re stuck there into later in the afternoon, you’ll see a change in the population. You’ll see a younger crowd, with darker skin and textbooks in dentistry, pharmacy and engineering on their lap. Thousands of students come to India from Africa and the Middle East. I have never seen them represented anytime in the expat forums or organizations.
Yesterday at the meeting, we could have used our clout to increase the safety of all in Bangalore. But what we got is the promise of a police hotline dedicated to expats.
But rest assured that the best expats in Bangalore are the two riding VespaVindaloo!
(*) Another Big Bang Theory reference.