Expatriate or Ex-patriot?
The word expatriate has more than one connotation. As a Noun an expatriate is a person who is voluntarily absent from home or country. As a Verb expatriate means to move away from one’s native country and adopt a new residence abroad. And if try being an expatriate and don’t like it you can always become a repatriate.
Those are descriptions of the world expatriate you will find in the dictionary but the following humorous account by San Miguel author John Scherber throws a different light on the expat experience:
“Earlier this year, a woman said to me at a cocktail party, “So you hate the United States?”
“What?” I’m sure my eyebrows leaped nearly to my hairline with surprise. I wondered whether she’d been lying in wait for me.
“You call yourself an expatriate. You even admit it right here.” Her left hand raised my own book as an indictment, and her extended right forefinger stopped an inch from my sternum, already scarred from previous encounters of this kind. You never know what to expect at a book event. I knew she owned a number of my mysteries, set mostly in México, where I live, because I’d autographed three of them for her at a book signing earlier. She’d also picked up my nonfiction book on the life-changing experience of many Americans and Canadians who also live in San Miguel de Allende.
“I am an expatriate,” I said, calmly, trying to smile.
“See! I read that on the cover.”
“Being an expatriate has nothing to do with a lack of patriotism, it merely means a person who lives in a country he wasn’t born in. You must be thinking of ex-patriot; someone who’s turned against his country. It’s a different spelling, like here and hear. If you’d been born in Minnesota, where would you choose to live?”
“I think I would’ve declined to be born in Minnesota. My family’s all here.” As if making a point I couldn’t refute, she walked away. I didn’t know whether she’d gotten my message or not, but I still appreciated her as a reader. They come with all different points of view.
In that book in her left hand, which I’d titled San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart, I investigated what it meant for 32 different people to leave home, often at an age well past youth. To leave the familiar behind and encounter––usually with some discomfort––a new country and a new set of friends, a new way of life. Usually the reasons are about finding a new culture and a different kind of weather, as they were for me. And they’re always about reinventing yourself against a background that in México I think of as simpático. It welcomes people in a mood for change.
But how does it work, really? What is the detail? On the Internet you can easily see the colonial architecture, which reminds you of Europe. After all, San Miguel was founded in 1542, a date when the Plymouth Colony of Massachusetts was still 78 years away. It’s old in its bones. You already know that winters are starting to tell you in unpleasant detail around your joints what it means to continue in the climate where you live now. You know that real Méxican food is great, because you subscribe to Bon Appetite magazine, and you also know you can’t get the real thing in the States without a lot of research. It doesn’t hurt that México is also top heavy with charm and character, and the people are warm and inviting.
But you can’t get by on great food alone; you need Internet, golf, a top-notch dentist, good health care, a trained mechanic to maintain your car, and a sense of community and security––a challenging word, since you’ve read about the drug wars. You read about them every day. You know what all the commentators are saying. And even though you realize that it’s all because they are competing for your drug dollar, you don’t use drugs other than Lipitor and Viagra, so it’s definitely not reassuring. Amen.
It turns out that it’s not about Lipitor. It’s about heroin and cocaine. If that’s your reason to come to México, stop reading right here and stay in San Francisco or Austin. But if you have other reasons to check out this lifestyle, you will do so in a greater degree of safety than you could in the States, contrary to what the media would have you believe.
What is the solution to this ugly dilemma? Well, it turns out that staying safe requires nothing different from the method you already use––and it’s been working for you quite well all your life. It’s called savvy. You know the trouble spots in the United States or Canada. That’s easy, and you respond by avoiding them as you lead a perfectly normal life. But you do not shun Pensacola because the thought of visiting Detroit makes you queasy.
It will be no surprise that the same approach works well in México, where there are 2,500 municipalities. The drug wars are focused in between twelve and fifteen of them. The safety level in the rest is about the same as living in rural Iowa. Naturally, it still pays to avoid cows with horns.
Once over this hump you will discover a lifestyle blooming with options. Do you have a fondness for horses? Equestrian sports are everywhere in México, from cow sorting to dressage and jumping. Are you a fan of the arts? Art galleries and studios abound. Lessons in painting and sculpture are offered everywhere. Like to dig in and serve your community? San Miguel can supply more than a hundred ways to improve the environment and the status of local people. Just like to kick back and relax after a demanding career? The jardin, our local plaza, is San Miguel’s living room, like others throughout México, where expats and locals mix and trade stories from the weather to life in general, to sports and culture. All this in 330 days of sunshine a year. Don’t miss the chamber music and jazz festivals, the annual writer’s conference, the opera scene, and the dozens of active art galleries.
Tired of tortillas? Try the two world-class supermarkets at the edge of town, the Office Depot, Liverpool department store, and the other big box stores in close-in neighboring towns. How about a Sassoon-trained hair stylist?
Many of these points focus on San Miguel de Allende, my own town, but similar resources flourish all over México. The Internet can readily tell you what’s going on almost anywhere.
México is an opportunity not to be missed, so don’t let yourself be stopped by the border––if it’s anything like mine, your future has no borders.”
For more stories about expat life in Mexico, visit JOHN SCHERBER at BLOGSTER
To order John’s books, please visit SAN MIGUEL de ALLENDE BOOKS