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There it is. I am playing the colour card. Not something I’ve ever felt the need to do. 

For many years I was, in whichever country I happened to be living, involved with supporting women of any ethnicity on their nomadic adventures. Whether as an accompanying spouse and mother, a corporate woman, a single woman with the courage to take a leap into the unknown, or a woman native to whichever country was my home at that particular time.

I am angry because of the nonsense being written about ‘angry black women’. Why is there a need to qualify an angry woman? Does it make her anger any more potent if it is black rather than white? We can be strident or shrill, but angry is still angry, regardless of colour. Why are angry men not so defined?

And as I’m writing about an angry white woman, let me give an example of something that does really anger me. The word ‘expatriate’ used incorrectly to denote privileged white people swanning around the world on a corporate expense account. The word is believed by some to be archaic. Maughamesque, perhaps. 

Used correctly, ‘expatriate’ means to live outside one’s native country. Regardless of one’s colour. Now there’s another taboo word – native. But first ‘expatriate’. According to Mawuna Remarque Koutonin, in a blog first published on SiliconAfrica.com and picked up The Guardian in Britain, ‘expatriate’ is the word which “exclusively applies to white people”. Mr Koutonin goes on to say, “In the lexicon of human migration there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else. One of those remnants is the word ‘expat’.” His diatribe continues with the suggestion that Arabs, Asians, Africans are all considered immigrants but that Europeans are always considered expatriate because, “they can’t be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are superior. Immigrants is a term set aside for ‘inferior races’.” The blog ends with a call to arms, “If you see those “expats” in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there. The political deconstruction of this outdated worldview must continue.”

Perhaps if Mr Koutonin had bothered to look further than Wikipedia for a definition, he would have a greater understanding of both the word and the differing terms used, and changed, as status changes. For example, when I first relocated to America I was an expatriate from my birth country of Great Britain. Whilst still technically an expatriate because I live “outside my native country”, I am also now an immigrant, having decided to emigrate on a permanent basis. Following this reasoning, when I lived in Equatorial Guinea in West Africa, I was an expatriate on a short-term visa. I never had any intention of either emigrating or immigrating – both leading to a permanent residence outside said birth country.

A native-born, black, British citizen asked to relocate for work to an African country would be considered an expatriate by the corporation or NGO sponsoring such a move. He or she would only become an immigrant if the decision was made to change visa status and become a citizen of that country.

And so I come to ‘native’.

I am, again technically, a native of one country, England, that of my paternal Anglo-Norman heritage. I do though have a loyalty to Australia because it was my mother’s native land, though she was not of Aboriginal descent, and also the country in which I was educated. I swore an allegiance to the United States when I became a citizen. And before anyone shouts I should have foresworn all other fealties when I took the oath, might I just point out the proliferation of societies, and ethnic affiliations, to which many belong in these still great United States, despite many never having set foot in their ‘other’ so-called country of loyalty? But for those of us with a different birth country, or who may have lived in many countries, as I have, it is difficult to give up those slices of our heart that have been left in each place called home. We carry a little of their soil in our souls, forever.

Like any word in the English language, and maybe others, it rather depends on the context in which the word is used as to whether or not it is offensive. Neither ‘expatriate’ nor ‘native’ are derogatory words. Neither should ‘black’ or ‘white’ be considered such. 

Yet here I am, an angry white woman. Made angrier by the farrago that was the US Open Tennis Women’s Final. What double standards! What a shame, for both Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. One a great champion, one a nascent champion. Think of John McEnroe, Nick Kyrgioss, Jimmy Connors, Ile Nastase – none of whom could be called gentlemen players on court. Did ever a chair umpire have so little respect for them? And as Ms Williams continues to be called ‘an angry black woman’, what I wonder would Ms Osaka be called, should she be the one to lose her cool in a tense match? Would a woman of Japanese Haitian ethnicity also be called an angry black woman? Why can’t we just be angry women?

My list of personal adjectives grows longer. I am an angry, English native, expatriate, immigrant woman and proud to be one! Does it matter what colour I am?

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There are websites galore devoted to the expatriate life and how to make the most of it. How to choose the right school. How to recreate oneself as an accompanying spouse. How to make friends in a foreign land. How to have a baby overseas – that one always makes smile. I believe the answer is the same anywhere in the world – you push. 

Living a life abroad is not difficult. And as the world shrinks with the ease of travel and the omnipresence of the internet it has without doubt become easier. In some ways though the very ease of communication and the ability to see films and TV shows from any country,  has created a belief that we are one giant homogenous world with little separating us – a sort of Bollywood comes to Hollywood. And that can lead to unrealistic expectations, to a lack of cultural awareness, a lack of willingness to accept and, mostly, embrace our differences.

It is a privilege to be invited to share in someone else’s customs and traditions. To travel, and to spend significant time in another country encourages us to become more compassionate, more open to inevitable differences, to understand that there is no single way to do many things. It is also too easy to forget issues that may arise whilst living in a foreign country might well have arisen when living in the village of one’s birth, surrounded by family. It is easy to blame external factors for internal problems though like everything there are exceptions.

I think a global perspective helps make us more accepting and in some ways kinder.

What travel most certainly does is introduce new words and phrases into our lexicon that are used without thought in our daily speech, without remembering those to whom we are speaking might be utterly confused.

My 60th birthday was shared with seven girlfriends with whom I have celebrated for over ten years and who, last week, flew in to St Croix from mainland USA and Britain. Sitting on the gallery one evening I looked at these wonderful women who I had met around the world and wondered how many countries had been lived in. A quick tally was 24 countries, and that wasn’t counting overlaps where some of us had lived in the same country. Had we included those the total would have been 42.

Not surprisingly those multiple countries and languages have spawned many phrases in our personal dictionaries. Growing up in Malaysia the word cukup and tidak were daily admonitions from, it sometimes seemed, most adults in my life. Meaning “enough” and “no”. Makan siap called us to the table – the bahasa melayu equivalent of “grub’s up”. Papua New Guinea added em tasol and means “that’s all”. Genoeg and tot ziens came from Holland, another “enough”, and “see you later”. My children, raised initially in Thailand, were quick to learn mai pen rai – “it doesn’t matter”. 

But the phrase I had completely forgotten from my childhood was huggery buggery!

I had left the house early to go and prepare the table at Cafe Christine’s for 14 lovely ladies joining me for lunch. Unbeknownst to me, those staying with me had plans to decorate the house in my absence. (I later understood why everyone kept asking me “when are you going?”, or “what time do you want us there?” I had also been mildly surprised to note my Cruzan friends, who often work to a Caribbean clock, arrived on time and my houseguests all late.)

But back to huggery buggery.

Apparently whilst hustling to decorate the house with all manner of glitzy banners, streamers and balloons proclaiming my advanced age, my multi-lingual pals were searching for sellotape.

“Well she must have a huggery-buggery drawer somewhere!” said Trish, continuing to pull open cupboard doors and tug recalcitrant drawers swollen by humidity.

“What?” The query came from five women.

“The huggery buggery drawer. You know, bits and bobs, odds and ends. Everyone has one.”

Relating this to me later over yet more bubbles, I laughed. It was a phrase used by my paternal grandmother and my father, learned from their days in India. Sometimes it is best not look too deeply into the etymology of a word but goodness it is descriptive. And whilst Trish has never lived in India, she learnt it from an Indian ayah whilst living in Dubai.

Writing this blog brought to mind the teenage glee with which a friend and I, then living in Papua New Guinea, would call her dog to heel. Her travel history included South Africa and her amusingly non-pc parents had named the mutt who appeared one day at their door, Voetsek. Voetsek in Afrikaans is a not terribly polite way of saying, “get lost”.

And so along with kindness comes humour. Two things necessary wherever we live but which is sometimes needed in larger doses when living a global life. Some of the things we build into big events or issues are really very unimportant in the greater scheme of life, and we need a take a kecil out of the huggery-buggery drawer and learn to realize that for most things, mai pen rai!

Now I wonder if there’s an expat website for that!

Note: I’ve just been told that huggery-muggery is listed in a 1700 Scottish dictionary so it seems India borrowed and adapted from the Scots!