“But you’re an expat, not an immigrant”

"You're not a real immigrant, you're an expat.": About immigration, racism and xenophobia.

“I’m glad you moved to Norway, I’m guessing they treat their immigrants worse than their own people, life must be great there.” While on the phone with my grandparents earlier this week, they jumped on the subject of immigration and refugees, and how, in their opinion, immigrants shouldn’t receive any benefits, forgetting that their own granddaughter is an immigrant somewhere.

No one accuses me of stealing their jobs even though for every job I’ve had so far, I was chosen over a native.

I’m not surprised, it’s not the first time this happened to me, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. “Because you’re not an immigrant,” people scream, “you’re an expat.”

When I got a job in Norway, people congratulated me, cheered for me, told me how impressed they were by how far I have become, or that their cousin would like to work abroad as well. I’ve been told countless of times that I’m not a real immigrant, that I’m a native.

No one accuses me of being lazy, no one wants to send me back to where I come from (luckily), and no one accuses me of stealing their jobs even though for every job I’ve had so far, I was chosen over a native.

However, some people, like people of color or Muslims, don’t get to experience the same warm welcome I did. They can’t wear their religious symbols, get criticized for the food they eat, are told to go back to their own country, are denied jobs, and experience hate and violence. Only briefly going through Twitter’s trending tags proves that lots of people seem to hate people who are different from them, and they’re not afraid to show that hate.

People like to call out the middle eastern guy owning a food store for stealing their jobs but they don’t mind me doing so.

Yes, not everyone is like that. Not all men are sexist. Not all white people are racist. But lots of them are. Too many of them are. And it wasn’t until I became an immigrant myself, and didn’t receive any hate for being an immigrant, that I realized society is pretty fucked up when it comes to the subject of immigration. We don’t seem to mind a white woman moving from one western country to another, we encourage it, but we don’t even want to give someone who looks different from us a chance.

People like to call out the middle eastern guy owning a food store for stealing their jobs — which is a horrible word choice as it suggests the job belonged to someone and someone else unrightfully took it away from them, and that’s not how the job market works — but, at the same time, they don’t mind me doing so.

People offer me to talk English with me, telling me these days it’s not necessary anymore to learn new languages, but the same people have no problem following the “if they come to our country, they have to speak our language” mentality when it comes to people of color.

Noticed how whenever people talk about immigrants committing crimes or being unemployed, they use the word immigrant, but when talking about achievements of white people, they talk about expats?

Some will make the argument that an immigrant moves to a new country with the intention of staying there permanently, while expats move somewhere for an unknown period of time. But that distinction is rarely made when talking about immigrants or expats.

I moved to Norway with the intention of staying here permanently, if we follow the above definition I qualify as an immigrant. Yet I’m never called one. And a black woman who temporarily moves to another country for work will most likely be called an immigrant, not an expat.

We shouldn’t have to fight, write blog posts or protest about wanting equality. Being treated like a human being should be a right, not a privilege.

And when my granddad said he was happy I’m living in a country that treats their immigrants badly (Note: I don’t. While Norway isn’t perfect, I’ve noticed way less racism and way more acceptance towards diversity here than I have in Belgium, where I grew up), he actually meant he was glad Muslims and people of color were treated badly, and that people like him, white people, get to live in an environment where they can superior, not equal.

It’s crazy that something we have absolutely no control over, like our skin color or who our parents were, can cause such a big difference in how people treat us and interact with us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I’m not experiencing racism or xenophobia. I’m glad people are so welcoming towards me, and that I am where I am right now. I don’t want to go through that bullshit. But I definitely don’t want others to have to go through it either. I want everyone to get the chances I got, and receive the welcoming smiles I did. We shouldn’t have to fight, write blog posts or protest about wanting equality. Being treated like a human being should be a right, not a privilege. 

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  1. It’s so sad that some people are treated badly in the country they live in. I am glad that in Switzerland we are respected and so are immigrants… I hope it stays like this.


  2. I totally agree with your last statement – it enrages me when people are discriminated against. I have never thought about this – expat v immigrant, I loved reading your post. Kaz x

  3. Amazing post & so well written. Goves a food for thought. I’ve noticed this same thing happening here in Finland & I’m not proud of my country or people in it, who are treating immigrants badly.

  4. Do you think it’s a generational thing? I’ve heard this kind of attitude amongst older members of our family but myself, husband and children are the total opposite. We live in London which is an incredibly rich and diverse place to live and bring up children.

  5. This double standard infuriates me! The whole concept of deciding someone’s worth, or right to live somewhere, or ability to do a certain job, or anything else really, based on their skin colour or where they were born just makes no sense to me

  6. I’ve written about this before – your post is a fantastic example of the kind of honesty we need around this. I’m a serial immigrant myself, but because I’m not as dark-skinned as most people from my home country I’ve had less flack over the years. Not that I haven’t had any grief at all, just less… and that’s disturbing.

  7. This was very interesting to read. I’m a Romanian immigrant living in UK. So far I had only a snarky comment about it in 5+ years. So I can’t say I was discriminated against. I’m white, my husband is white and we are welcomed here.
    On the other side I heard so many comments after Brexit from people who said that they welcome migrants and what would Britain be without the Eastern Europeans workers in construction, fruit pickers in the fields and nurses in the NHS. That annoys me just as much, not all migrants from Eastern Europe have low paid, unskilled jobs. My acquaintances that work in the NHS are doctors, married to lawyers. Funnily enough, I never heard comments like this about migrants from Australia or the US. I don’t they don’t even realize the have double standards.

  8. Ahhh so true and I am so happy you called this out! It makes me feel so uncomfortable when newspapers and the media have this opinion – and it’s not based on any fact at all, but causes great upset and and a hugely strained atmosphere, which sucks >< it reminds me of the attitudes people had about Jews before the Holocaust happened, that awful 'us and them' attitude; it's so important to call it out! xx

    elizabeth ♡ ”Ice Cream” whispers Clara
    (lets follow each other on bloglovin or instagram)

  9. I’m French, and have been living in Australia for 20 years. I still consider myself a migrant. I migrated. Legally. I’m not a refugee or a queue jumper. I think people assume that a migrant is always someone doing something illegal. An expat is someone who goes to work in another country but still pays taxes in their country of origin. These differences can be tricky to understand for people who’ve never left their country. Thank you for a good blog.