Someone stopped me at a store yesterday and asked me “Are you a local?” I am English and currently living in Australia, in a town where in general it is believed that you must live there at least ten years before they consider you to be a local. Having been in this town less than a year I wasn’t confident that ‘yes’ was the right answer.
Reminding myself that I was in a store that I visit regularly to restock my fridge, I hazarded a ‘yes’. “Oh that is great,” he said, “Can you tell me where I can find sugar?” Yes, I could, so to that extent at least, I am actually a local here.
However, I am also an expat and, kind and accepting as the Aussies generally are, I will always be considered in the first place to be a ‘pom’ while I live here. This doesn’t bother me but it did make me wonder when, if at all, do expats become locals?
They absolutely can and do become locals. Live anywhere long enough and you become a familiar face eventually. There are several indicators of increased confidence in a place that you notice when living in a new location, such as being able to give directions (or show someone the sugar), needing less help to deal with daily activities and not getting lost (or not so frequently at least). The extent to which an individual feels like he or she is a local depends on their behavior though. At the moment you have established relationships in a place you feel more local and it is the reason that it is very important to put yourself out there when you relocate. Your new community will accept you more readily the more involved in it you are.
Any location that attracts expats has a place that is especially popular with expats, possibly because of easier communications or huge cultural differences between the expat nationalities and the host country. These ‘expat ghettos’ offer a helpful stepping block to new expats, especially in a country where another language is spoken or is very different from ‘home’. They can also offer support to expats who are homesick or struggling, or who want to meet someone who ‘just understands’.
However, expats who only spend time in such groups, one can argue, may as well have stayed at home. Where expats keep to themselves and do not integrate with the locals they can be accused of ‘lording it up’ overseas while they contribute nothing to their new homeland. This can lead to animosity between expats and locals.
I suppose that in case you accept more social invitations than you decline, and you are not some sort of hermit, it takes a minimum of six months living in a place to make up your mind if you can settle somewhere. Whether you feel ‘local’ or an ‘expat’ will largely depend on how well your new home suits you and how well you suit it.
Do you think it is important for expats to one day become a local?