Wednesday, July 8, 2009
THE EXPAT. CHRONICLES
This is a subject that's long interested me, I even tried to introduce here once, long ago, unsuccessfully.
There seems to be a significant portion of the Spill/RR community that are living away from their native countries plus another group who've lived abroad for long periods and then returned. Times change and now there's a large expat population in Europe, though mostly retired, that choose to live in sunnier climes, ie; Spain, France, Morocco etc. The economy, cost of living, taxes and the weather all are factors in their decisions to leave, but they're not who I'm thinking of here, our group, I suspect are still working, still active but have chosen for a variety of reasons to to live 'abroad'. I'm curious re. those reasons, is there a common thread that we expats all share? I probably hold the expat record for longevity, I've lived away from the country of my birth for over fifty years, though I've visited there many times. I have very warm feelings for many aspects of England, but conversely there's also many reasons that I couldn't live there now; it's not the country that I left, it's changed so dramatically in 50 years that it's almost unrecognizable but the core culture is the same and that's what attracts me.
The following questions, I hope, will be a basis for some interesting discussion on the topic, I'll kick it off by answering them and then hopefully some of you will chime in, I realise that this topic by it's nature excludes some of us but that shouldn't prevent general comments and maybe ideas of places you might have thought that you'd like to live and reasons why you chose not to.
1. Why and when did you choose to leave your home country? Would you return to live there?
2. How long have you lived abroad?
3. Was it a good decision, if so why? Would you recommend it?
4. What do you miss/what are the advantages? Any regrets?
5. Which culture do you feel that you belong to? Are there aspects of your new culture that you don't share?
6. Is language an issue, even if you speak it, do you feel totally comfortable and understood with it, the way you are in your native tongue?
7. If married, is your spouse/partner of your native country or your adopted one? Does this affect your expat life?
8. Music: What effect, if any, has your expat status had on your musical taste?
1. England was in a very depressed state for at least a decade following WW2, food rationing lasted well into the 50's, the country was economically bust! The US emerged from the war very wealthy and had acquired huge technological assets, ie jet aircraft, radar, rockets, magnetic tape plus thousands of German scientists who came to work in US industries.
I had only the most basic education and no real skills, I didn't see much of a future for me in mid 50's East Anglia. A friend who'd emigrated to California persuaded me to join her there, initially for a visit but it almost immediately became permanent, we later married.
2. 51 years: since Aug. 8th, 1958 and the entire time with the exception of 1 year I've lived in California, about 35 years in LA and 15 in northern California. I think of California as my adopted 'country' rather than the USA.
3. It was an amazing decision, you wouldn't believe the changes I went through in a very short period. Financially: my paycheck for doing a similar job to the one I had in England increased about tenfold within a couple of years, we were earning so much money compared to the cost of living that there was a bowl on the dining table where we put uncashed pay checks, we'd let them accrue 'til there was enough to make a trip to the bank worthwhile. in England I drove a 1937 Austin 7, in that same two years I'd bought a XK 150 Jag and a new Citroen, it was a land of literally 'eternal sunshine', we travelled extensively all over the western states and visited England on holiday. I had a very good job as the Southern California Technical representative of a major paint company, based in large part on my being English, I learned as I went along. Compared to England there was enormous freedom in terms of lifestyle, work, leisure, travel and simple things like having a swimming pool and a large apartment. It was obviously a very good decision, it was one of those 'forks in the road' that we spoke about here recently, my life changed. I tried to influence friends back in England to come and check it out but there were no takers. England was black & white, California was Technicolor.
4. Throughout that period, the decade of the 1960's, I evolved through many changes, I quit that job, left the USA at the time of the Cuban missile crisis and returned a year later to enter a university. I don't think that I would have had that opportunity in England, I was 31 by then. It was the time of the cold war and we were subjected to constant anti Soviet propaganda and US jingoism, I tried to close my ears to it all but it was always there, as was the eternal advertising whether on radio, TV or print, it demeaned everything. I missed the 'culture' of England, specifically the history, the literature and the arts, I think I saw every English film produced during that period and not many American ones.
5. I'm not sure that I identify with either totally, it's bits and pieces of each with a few international spoonsfull tossed in. Black music and reggae both were influences as were the early US trade union movement and the civil rights movement and the songs that evolved from them.
6. Language is obviously not an issue except that my accent always opened doors, England and all things English were always very popular.
7. My first wife was English and we shared many of the foregoing ideas and attitudes, we divorced after about 12 years. My current wife is American and it's always intriguing to see how she's interested in all thing English, she probably knows as much or more than the average Brit about English culture and society, I enjoy the 'international' aspect of our marriage.
8. My love of jazz started long before I left but my being here allowed it to develop by having constant access to live jazz in LA, the 'English Invasion' of the '60s was significant in that it was a connection to the homeland in addition to being a new music. I was able to buy records and attend concerts in a manner that I might not have done in England, so I'd say there was a positive effect in that way. Similarly, later when reggae struck and then 'world music' I was able to travel and become fairly involved.
So overall it's been a definite positive experience for me, I don't know who I'd have become had I stayed in Bury St Edmunds and continued working at ICI but it would have been light years away from what California created.