• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

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

The Local · 17 Jun 2014, 09:47

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.

Story continues below…

“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 news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Police shoot dead father who attacked daughter's abuser
Police at the scene of the shooting in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

Berlin police on Tuesday night shot and killed the father of a young girl at a refugee home as he tried to attack a man who allegedly sexually abused his daughter.

TV celebrity criticized for claiming 70 kg is overweight
Sophie Thomalla. Photo: DPA

Model Sophie Thomalla claimed that promoting models who weigh over 70 kg sets as dangerous an example as skinny supermodels.

UK files show how Spanish spy tricked Nazis over D-Day
Photo: DPA

Secret files released in Britain Wednesday shed new light on how a Spaniard dubbed the greatest double agent of World War II tricked Germany with false intelligence about the D-Day Normandy landings.

Pegida take to Dresden streets - to march against Pegida
Pegida demonstrators. Photo: DPA

Followers of the xenophobic Pegida movement marched in two factions on Monday evening in the capital of Saxony, brandishing fierce accusations of treason against one another.

Analysis
Is it fair to call the AfD far right?
AfD leaders, from left, Georg Pazderski, Frauke Petry and Jörg Meuthen. Photo: DPA.

The AfD has been dubbed "far-right" over the past year as it has taken on a tougher stance against immigration and made gains in state elections. But at what point does one call a group far-right?

Dresden police guard Islamic buildings after mosque attack
The Dresden mosque that was hit by a homemade bomb attack on Monday. Photo: DPA.

All Islamic buildings in the capital of Saxony have been put under police protection on Tuesday after explosive devices were detonated at a mosque and a congress centre in the city.

Germany blocks WhatsApp data transfers to Facebook
Photo: DPA

German data protection authorities on Tuesday said they had blocked Facebook from collecting subscriber data from its subsidiary WhatsApp, citing privacy concerns.

Stuttgart fest pulls in twice as many boozers as Oktoberfest
Is this Oktoberfest or is this Stuttgart's Cannstatter Volksfest? Can you tell the difference? Well, it's Stuttgart. Photo: DPA.

Apparently Munich is no longer the top place to wear lederhosen and down beer one litre at a time.

The Local List
10 German films you have to watch before you die
Photo: DPA

These films are so good, not even The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari made the list.

Young man destroys 17 cars after visiting Oktoberfest

Early on Monday morning a drunk 29-year-old trashed 17 cars after staggering out of Oktoberfest into the Munich streets. It was one of several eye-popping crimes from "Wiesn" over the past few days.

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Lifestyle
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
10 German films you have to watch before you die
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Lifestyle
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Seven great reasons to stay in Germany this September
National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
6,591
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd