When you live abroad for many years you will meet Ex-pats or Ex-Patriates, people who left their country of birth and made a new life for themselves in a foreign land. I have always found during my postings abroad the Ex-Pat crowd a very strange one. You are never quite sure what their story is, why are they in this foreign locale. Who are they really and why they do not want to go home or can’t.
Some were born abroad from parents who were colonial officials, grew up in the country and never moved to their country of citizenship, despite having family there. Others came by chance or for work and simply stayed. These Ex-Pats are not Snowbirds who visit for 6 months or less but long term residents some life long residents.
They often blend into the local community and you discover their stories by accident. There was in Jordan one fellow who lived in the ruins of an old movie set within the archeological park of Jerash, one of the city of the Decapolis. Eccentric fellow for sure, he would often help archeologists on site with small manual work. He kept to himself and was friendly.
Another was a woman of German origin who worked on the ancient site of the Oracle of Siwa Oasis in Egypt deep in the Sahara desert near the border with Lybia. She did archeological work and had established herself there and became famous for her books and studies on the site over a period of 50 years. Siwa is very isolated place, far away from any large town, she was a big fish in a small pond.
Many countries ask no questions, as long as you have your papers in order and live quietly on your own money without seeking public assistance, authorities really do not care and will not bother with you. Most had quiet lives but some where fleeing troubles back home.
In the movie set in India, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel shows a group of British Ex-Pats living as if the Sun has not set on the British Empire. This movie is a comedy and did not reflect real life. Many Ex-Pats either live on good incomes or on a few dollars often counting on old friends and locals to help them along while doing odd jobs.
However not all of them spoke the local lingo and lived somewhat isolated lives because of it. If you are going to live anywhere for a long time, learn the language, it is most helpful and appreciated by the locals.
Some ex-pats looked to the Embassy as a lifeline to back home however many having been away for so many years, they were often out of touch with back home and remembered how things were when they left 10 or more years ago. One day a gentleman asked me how was Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau doing, I told him he had left office some 12 years previously and was now quietly retired.
In Rome we had Ex-Pats who had retired from the UN agencies, Rome has several large UN agencies headquartered in the Eternal city and due to generous agreements from the Italian Government, these ex-UN employees were able to continue living in Italy under special arrangements with many benefits. Some had cleverly bought homes many decades prior when prices were still low if compared to today and continue to live in a grand style.
The most interesting Ex-Pats were those who lived in countries where you would think there was little to attract, per example Communist China. It was, I discovered fairly easy for a foreign national to live in China for a long period of time and even work. In the years prior to the Beijing Olympics, before 2008, many Canadians would come to study in China or teach. Others would come as tourists and then convert their visa into a residence visa. Some still would start a business or find work in the tourism industry. The Chinese seem to believe that tourists would prefer to speak or interact with one of their own, you often saw this in Tourist Hotels where the staff of the Front desk would be a caucasian, either Canadian or American.
Probably one of the most famous Ex-Pat group where men and women who came from the USA in the 1930’s to join Mao and his band of merry communists. Several where Jewish lawyers from NYC who wanted to change the world and were used by people like Mao, in the phrase of Lenin as useful idiots, many had senior positions within the Communist party, some did very well for themselves, writing books and speaking of their experience in China. They were in a way a propaganda tool used against the USA. The last one Sidney Rittenberg died in 2019.
Chinese Television CCTV also had tourism promotional weekly shows catering to English speaking business people or their families featuring topics like shopping or visiting sight in China or where to eat or drink. One show in particular had this good looking African American muscle type who would ride in a brand new sport vehicle with his Chinese girlfriend all around China as if he was travelling around the USA on route 66. I never found it terribly realistic since it was well known that it is impossible to drive more than 50Km outside Beijing in a private car. The police will stop you at a road block and forcibly return you with a stiff fine to the City. Of course you could book a guide (minder) and a car to escort you where ever you wanted to go.
In general Ex-Pats who married a Chinese Citizen could start a business and live the rest of their lives in China. There was a bar in the park next to the Gong Ti or Workers Sport Stadium in the Chao Yang district owned by a Brit who had been in Beijing for at least 20 years. Chao Yang is a neighbourhood on the East side of Beijing of 2 million people, mostly composed of foreigners and Embassies. This fellow catered to Ex-Pats exclusively and offered British food and beer. He had arrived in the early 1990’s when China was opening to the World and had set himself up. Such Ex-Pats become institutions in the foreign community. In Beijing we also had French, Spanish and Italian Ex-Pats who owned restaurants, bars, language schools or work in Foreign Embassies. Many managed to survive and go on for years. Many catered to the foreign community and tourists, they are like a safe haven.
Women Ex-Pats were also very interesting, we had one on Mexico who married a Mexican and opened a Canadian restaurant outside Mexico City, in her case we heard all about her problems, it became a bit of a cause célèbre. Others like in Italy would marry locally and try to integrate, I say try, because it was very difficult to find acceptance from the family, your In-Laws. People always viewed you as an outsider. I met such women in Jordan and Egypt, Greece and China. Some succeeded in carving a life for themselves, others simply left or divorced after a few years.
The world of the Ex-Pat is a twilight zone, neither in nor out, despite often years of residence. Some do very well and become local fixtures and have happy lives and many good friends, but that is not the case for all. Maybe this is why we chose to return to Canada after my last posting despite having investigated the very real possibility of living in Ireland or somewhere in the European Union, like Italy, Spain or Portugal.