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Expat or migrant? What’s in a name?

Is he a migrant, expat or even a colonist? Justin Postlethwaite is experiencing an identity crisis

30 March 2017
By Justin Postlethwaite

The day I moved to France, I was on the plane approaching Nice airport, relishing the majestic azure arc of the Baie des Anges. I was in a Riviera reverie, buzzing for a new life of sea, sun and shopping. An Englishman moving to a city whose most famous street is named after his brethren. How could they not love me here?

At Arrivals, I would be hugged by the President of the Regional Council, Christian Estrosi, and together we would parade along the Promenade des Anglais in his shiny official vehicle, waving at the ranks of Niçois, all giddy with joy at catching a glimpse of the latest arriviste Anglais to grace their beloved city.

We would enjoy a champagne and seafood lunch at the port, where he would introduce me to Mario Balotelli and Bono and we would all be best friends forever.

I woke from this absurd daydream just as the plane came to a jarring halt on the hot Tarmac. An alternative reality hit me like a slice of soggy socca as I realised that it was not just my surroundings which were changing but also – far more melodramatically – my whole identity.

The truth is, nobody really cared that I had arrived, not Christian or Mario, especially not the passport guy, who barely raised his eyelids to check my mugshot. To local authorities, strangers in bars and even the serveuse at the boulangerie, I would be just another newcomer with so-so language skills and a hopeful smile.

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So, I very soon knew who I was not, but two months on and I still don’t really know who I am either. What name does my new status in France have? It’s all about perception and snobbery.

Am I an immigrant? Heavens above, no, it sounds bad – I didn’t arrive clinging to a boat like a poor soul from Syria, I had a reclining seat and peanuts on a plane. An economic migrant? Moi? No, I’m clearly I’m not a refugee, displaced by war or famine. A settler? Hardly – there’s already running water and teashops here.

How about good old expatriate? Sounds about right for now, and it does what it says on the tin. But one day I would hope simply, humbly, to become an adopted Niçois, a proud contributor to his city, with great new French friends.

One thing I am certainly not is a colonist – I have no intention of ruling my new environs. I will leave that to Christian. But must dash – I think that’s him ringing about lunch...

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