• Germany's news in English
 
Op-Ed
Who's an expat and who's an immigrant?
Photo: DPA

Who's an expat and who's an immigrant?

Published: 17 Jun 2014 09:47 GMT+02:00

“A friend of mine was talking to me about Neukölln [a district of Berlin] the other day,” says my German friend Lena. “She says it’s full of expats. Is that true?”

I shrug nonchalantly. “Pretty much, yeah.”

“And it didn’t use to be?” Lena looks at me carefully, like she’s slightly worried. “It used to be full of… normal Ausländer [immigrants].”

“Yeah,” I say. “That’s true. When I moved into my flat five years ago, everyone was Turkish or Arabic or maybe some kind of former Yugoslavian and the only Germans were alcoholics or junkies.

“Now everyone’s American or Spanish and all the Germans are copywriters or classical musicians or occupational therapists. That’s what gentrification is. All the Ausländer turn into expats.”

Lena looks at me. The slightly worried look on her face is turning into completely perturbed.

“But Jacinta,” she says. “What exactly is the difference between an expat and an Ausländer? Actually, Jacinta. What is an expat in the first place? Do you know?”

This is, of course, the million dollar question. Officially the German word “Expatriate”, which comes, obviously enough, from the Latin (ex - out of and patria - fatherland) is used to refer to a qualified worker who goes abroad to work for an international company for a specified amount of time.

Now, while at first glance, this is somewhat different to the English usage of the word expatriate, which merely means a person who lives - either temporarily or permanently - in a country other than the one they grew up in, the truth of the matter is that English speakers also tend to use the word expat to refer to a 'better class' of immigrant.

Think of expats, and you think of Hemingway and Fitzgerald in Paris, Americans abroad, The Talented Mr Ripley - people with money, drinking cocktails and possibly committing murder on yachts.

There’s something luxurious about being an expat - decadent and luxurious, and a definite element of choice to it.

Immigrants, on the other hand, come over to our country to work in factories and/or claim benefits, whereas expats, well, don’t.

To make matters more complicated, recently Germans have started to use the word expat to talk about all English-speakers who live in Germany. But are there any other words which they could use instead?

The German word “Ausländer” has a decidedly negative ring to it. It means foreigner but has often been used, incorrectly, to mean anyone with non-German parents who lives in Germany.

And due to the way it’s been bandied about by neo-Nazi graffiti in slogans like “Ausländer raus!” most of us could be forgiven for finding this word to be kind of negative.

Better as immigrants

Maybe the word immigrant is a better choice? There are lots of different German words for immigrant - you can say “der Immigrant”, “der Zuwanderer”, “der Einwanderer” - and while these words are definitely slightly more neutral than the dreaded Ausländer, there’s a real sense of movement involved - of motion, even.

When you hear a word like Zuwanderer, you immediately think of someone who’s moved to Germany - possibly in the recent past. You can almost see the plane or the ship they arrived on.

I think that’s why a lot of people are starting to prefer the more politically correct term - citizens with “Migrationshintergrund” - a background of migration.

This term can be used for people of ethnic minority origin with or without German nationality, which makes it a useful term to have.

Now, on the one hand, “Migrationshintergrund” does sound a little mealy-mouthed - it sounds like a euphemism, and euphemisms are generally used for things which are, to put it bluntly, a bit rubbish.

If you want to be, you can be just as racist about citizens with “Migrationshintergrund” as you are about “Ausländer”.

We’ve all seen enough rent-a-racists on German panel discussion shows to be sure of that. Still, I think the term is a good attempt at describing people who aren’t ethnically German in a way that is respectful and not derogatory.

One in five

So, enough about the words - let’s look at the numbers. Just how many foreigners - or Ausländer -  actually live in Germany?

According to the Ausländerzentralregister, 7.6 million “Ausländer” were living in Germany in December 2013.

And according to the Mikrozensus carried out in 2012, of the 81 million people living in Germany, 16.3 million had a “Migrationshintergrund” - that’s around 20 percent of the country.

How many of those “Ausländer” are expats and how many are immigrants or “Einwanderer”?

I think it is almost impossible to say, because I think it is almost impossible to distinguish between an expat and an “Ausländer” in any kind of meaningful way whatsoever.

The differences between an expat and an “Ausländer” are at best totally random and at worst slightly racist.

“It’s total crap,” I tell Lena. “When my grandparents went to England from India in the 1960s, they were considered immigrants. Not expats. Because, you know, lots of Indians were going over. But now I’ve come to Germany and I’m an expat.”

My friend Lena flashes me another worried look.

“Do you have to be, er, a European to be an expat?” she says.

“No,” I say. “Indians who come to Germany are considered expats, aren’t they?  They certainly consider themselves to be expats. They have computer skills and stuff.”

“It’s if you have a job to come to,” Lena says. “You’re an expat if you come to Germany with a job to go to!”

“But there are loads of British and Irish kids who turn up with a rucksack and an address of someone with a sofa in Neukölln they can kip on for three weeks,” I say. “Having a job to go to might be the official dictionary definition but that isn’t it either.”

Lena scratches her head. “I just don’t get it,” she says.

“It’s really easy,” I say, drily. “Expats are Ausländer who people don’t hate that much. That’s all.”

Lena bites her lip thoughtfully. “Well, give us time, Jacinta,” she says. “Give us time.”

SEE ALSO: Are you an expat or an immigrant?

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
North Korea mistakenly outraged at Berlinale
Kim Jong Un has accidentally wounded his dignity while trying to stop his dignity being wounded. Photo: DPA

North Korea mistakenly outraged at Berlinale

North Korea turned harsh diplomatic language against Berlin's film festival in the mistaken belief that The Interview, the James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy about a murder plot against dictator Kim Jong Un, will be screened there. READ  

Let's officialize Muslim community: Berlin mayor
Muslims at prayer in Berlin's Sehitlik mosque. Photo: DPA

Let's officialize Muslim community: Berlin mayor

SPD party leader Raed Saleh wants to create a contract with the Muslim community similar to the one between the town hall and Christian and Jewish groups that grants them official status. READ  

Cities see slower house price growth
Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg. Photo: DPA

Cities see slower house price growth

A trend for ever-faster growth in house prices across Germany was reversed in 2014, as prices rose by four percent compared with seven the previous year 2013. READ  

Court probes abuse at Catholic boarding school
The monk at his court appearance in Munich on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Court probes abuse at Catholic boarding school

A monk and former teacher at a boarding school in the Bavarian alps pleaded not guilty on Thursday at his trial for abusing two pupils and attempted abuse of two more. READ  

'Fight harder' against corruption: activists
Bribery photo: Shutterstock

'Fight harder' against corruption: activists

Campaigners say the states can do more to fight corruption after a report showed that Brandenburg, Saarland, North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg had the highest numbers of cases. READ  

Renzi woos Merkel amid Florentine splendour
Angela Merkel and Matteo Renzi speaking in Florence. Photo: DPA

Renzi woos Merkel amid Florentine splendour

The eurozone's deep divisions were set to be given an airing in Florence on Friday as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hosted German Chancellor Angela Merkel days before crucial elections in Greece. READ  

Merkel offers Russia free-trade agreement
Photos: DPA

Merkel offers Russia free-trade agreement

Germany would be prepared to negotiate a free-trade agreement between the European Union and Russia as a way out of the deadlocked Ukraine conflict, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday. READ  

Get more 'gigaliners' on roads: Minister
Photo: DPA

Get more 'gigaliners' on roads: Minister

Environmentalists and train companies reacted with outrage to Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt's plan to allow more giant "gigaliner" trucks on motorways before they've passed a trial period. READ  

Police arrest suspect in asylum seeker murder
Demonstrators in Dresden with photos of murder victim Khaled Idris Bahray

Police arrest suspect in asylum seeker murder

Police in Dresden have arrested a man on suspicion of killing his flatmate, an asylum seeker from Eritrea, on Monday January 12th. READ  

Meet the women fighting German tabloid sexism
Photo: DPA

Meet the women fighting German tabloid sexism

After a false dawn for campaigners against daily topless models in Britain's Sun newspaper, The Local talks to the women campaigning against sexism in Germany's biggest-selling tabloid. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
The rise and spread of Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Photo: DPA
Politics
The Local's report from Pegida's largest ever demonstration.
Sponsored Article
Top-notch tech boosts bilingual schools
National
Six stories that will rock Germany this year
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Dresden skyline and river by night. Photo: DPA
Politics
What does Dresden have against Muslims?
Photo: DPA
National
What were your favourite news stories of 2014?
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
Photo: DPA
National
This German was abducted and tortured by the CIA
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

1,438
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd