Paris, Election Season 2008—During those unforgettable, breath-holding seconds during the 2008 Superbowl when Eli Manning was making his mind-boggling escape from Patriot rushers and releasing a monstrous pass that was so incredibly caught by David Tyree with only a minute left in the Superbowl, I was asleep.
As an American abroad, I can nevertheless crowd a sentence with so many superlatives and expressions of love for the game and its players that those living on American soil, Bud Light, and Doritos will think me a brother in arms. As a native New Jerseyan I can stand shoulder to shoulder with New Yorkers and dish out full contempt for Bostonians.
As me, I simply don’t give a damn.
Does this mean I’ve lost allegiance to the U. S. of A. by living overseas?
I don’t think so. Still, for many Americans back in the ‘hood, I and the millions of other Americans living abroad are thought of as ex-patriots. I know this for a fact because of the number of letters I receive from readers and travelers asking if ex-patriots are allowed to vote.
As Americans abroad (6.6 million according to AARO, the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, a non-partisan service organization) we already have to endure the fact that our fellow Americans find our opinions suspiciously influenced by foreign forces, as well as with the fact that the U.S. government can legally tap into our phone calls so that we have to hang up on our own mothers when we feel they’re about to say something like “Somebody ought to shoot the guy” even if we’re just talking about a lawyer. But it doesn’t help that so many of our fellow Americans believe that the correct term for someone living abroad is ex-patriot rather than expatriate.
There are three reasons for this,
1. Ex-patriot and expatriate are pronounced alike.
one not so good:
2. Spellchecking, when used at all, has replaced proofreading.
3. An American who considers himself a patriot will readily imagine that anyone living on foreign soil has got to be an ex-patriot, particularly when that person holds a different opinion.
Allow me then to set the record straight.
A patriot, as defined in Merriam-Webster’s Tenth, is “one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.”
Reading that definition you can smell the gunpowder of its British use in “patriots versus loyalists” and therefore its link with early American Boston and recent American Boston footballers. The opposite of a patriot is no longer believed to be a loyalist but a traitor.
“Love country… support authority… (its) interests.”
Read those words and you can see how leaders and would-be leaders might use them in inspiring speeches and constructive policies.
Read those words again and again and you might actually believe that they belong irrevocably together. They do not. While the terms patriotism and patriotic have the softer, more tolerant edges of national pride, being a patriot appears to be an all-out, us-vs.-them affair of unwavering faith in the leadership and all it promotes, exploits, and reasons, not unlike a fundamentalist.
Leave me out of that game, please.
Like patriot, expatriate carries the echo of the British Empire, the smell of the high seas, the taste of gin, and the arrival of news, three months after the fact, that your favorite hound has died, a time when flying from London to attend your niece’s wedding was not an option, nor phoning the county clerk from Rome to be sent an absentee ballot, nor finding Budweiser and Doritos in at a grocery store in Paris.
I may be a poor case study of an American overseas since I return so frequently and lengthily to the U.S., yet I honestly don’t see myself as an expatriate either. I don’t deny its application or definition but I’m bothered by the ex- part. Just as you don’t call yourself an ex-parent when your children have grown, I have a hard time associating ex- relative to my relationship with patria (native country).
Identifying oneself as an ex- hints at a former life in which one is no longer engaged and from which one has since extracted oneself or been released, like an ex-marine, an ex-nun, an ex-smoker. I suppose that I’m an ex-secondhand-smoker now that cafés and restaurants are smoke-free in France. But the ex- term I feel closest to is ex-con seeing as I got my tattoos back there (metaphorically speaking), some of my best friends are there for the long run, I eat better now, and if I fall in with a certain crowd I might well go back.
Like millions of other Americans abroad I remain engaged in America.
Unlike the results of the Superbowl, those of the presidential election matter to me—even if I’m generally asleep when the winner’s declared. They matter because the dialogue, the reasoning (or lack thereof), the pandering, the posturing, and the numbers they reflect affect my world—our world.
They also affect the world of my European neighbors in their world—also known as our world—which is why they are so attentive to the process by which we select candidates and elect leaders. Some of them may be paying attention so that they can practice spelling the candidates’ names in order to get them right on the “Death to” signs. Others are honestly trying to figure out whom they would pull for if they had a vote.
But I do, as do many other Americans adults abroad. And our hope is not that Americans inside and outside the U.S. will collectively face the important issues of the day as perfect patriots but that we will face them as flawed and determined giants.
Personally, I’m rooting for the home team—as long as we don’t pass a law that requires me to wear the team jersey.
© 2008 by Gary Lee Kraut