• Germany edition
 
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
Germany debates scrapping coal power
Photo: DPA

Germany debates scrapping coal power

After deciding to scrap nuclear power, Germany is pondering saying goodbye to coal, its biggest energy source but also its top polluter and main threat to ambitious climate goals. READ  

Hitler painting goes under the hammer
Photo: DPA

Hitler painting goes under the hammer

A watercolour painted by a young Adolf Hitler a century ago went under the hammer for €130,000 ($161,000) Saturday at an auction in the southern German city of Nuremberg. READ  

Germany to drop probe into US spying on Merkel
Photo: DPA

Germany to drop probe into US spying on Merkel

Germany is dropping a probe into the alleged tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone by US spies, due to a lack of evidence, magazine Focus said Saturday. READ  

German FM: Iran nuclear talks 'completely open'
Photo: DPA

German FM: Iran nuclear talks 'completely open'

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Saturday that the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with six world powers was "completely open". READ  

New bird flu case in Germany
Photo: DPA

New bird flu case in Germany

A worrying new strain of bird flu has been observed for the first time in a wild bird in northern Germany, the agriculture ministry said Saturday. READ  

Anti-foreigner protesters rally in Berlin
Photo: DPA

Anti-foreigner protesters rally in Berlin

About 500 protesters, among them neo-Nazis and angry local residents, protested in the German capital on Saturday against the construction of a centre for refugees seeking political asylum. READ  

Radicalized Germans join jihadist cause
Iraqi fighters near Tikrit. Photo: DPA

Radicalized Germans join jihadist cause

Hundreds of Germans have left their home country to fight alongside jihadists in Syria and Iraq, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. READ  

Germany frees female Russian spy early
Photo: DPA

Germany frees female Russian spy early

A Russian spy, jailed in Germany with her husband last year, has been freed early and allowed to return home, media reports said Friday, suggesting a possible prisoner swap. READ  

Germans face flogging after Singapore charge
Andreas Van Knorre being transported by Singapore police. Photo: Wallace Woon/DPA

Germans face flogging after Singapore charge

Two German men were charged Saturday with breaking into a Singapore metro depot and spray-painting graffiti on a train, offences punishable by jail time and flogging with a cane. READ  

Last-minute lawsuit filed over Nazi-era art hoard
The Museum of Fine Arts in Bern. Photo: Gian Ehrenzeller/DPA

Last-minute lawsuit filed over Nazi-era art hoard

A relative of late German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt lodged a claim Friday for his inheritance, a Nazi-era art hoard which he has bequested to a Swiss museum, a spokesman said. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Win your Christmas list: €250 at Marks & Spencer
Photo: DPA
Politics
Can 'sorry' ever be enough for the Linke?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
Offer: Unlimited airmiles through December 19th
Sponsored Article
Ever wanted to try out home exchange?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1989
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
National
Which city is the worst for car crashes?
Photo: DPA
National
The folly of the foreigner road charge
Photo: DPA
National
The man who stopped Germany's trains
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
How to replace retiring baby boomers
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
Finger slicer's insurance scam fails
Photo: DPA
Gallery
See how Berlin has changed in 22 photos
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Want to study in Germany? These are the subjects to choose
Sponsored Article
International School on the Rhine: a legacy
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

3,229
jobs available
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists
Click here for the full job description
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd