Monday, March 16, 2009

Politics and the expat

Last year's US elections were understandably a subject of global media interest.

While watching the news coverage though, it struck me how some expats, perhaps even ‘many’, become rapidly de-politicised once they’re out of their home environment.

I know several US citizen expats that arrived initially with a still burning interest in their national politics, yet over time they’ve become increasingly indifferent to what’s happening back in the USA politically. Even in the recent election, for some their interest has been more academic than passionate.

This isn’t just a US phenomenon either. It seems to me as if many expats find that once they’re ‘out’ then their interest in politics back in the old country declines and declines – and that’s assuming they had any to begin with!

This is perhaps unsurprising. All the epic speeches and rhetoric suddenly don’t affect one much when outside of the country, so interest can wane.

What is more surprising though is how this gap isn’t replaced by an interest in the new ‘local politics’. Yes, in many countries there are expat associations and some have links into the local political life but for the most part these seem to be more social and practical groupings that take little direct interest in the politics of their new country.

Yes, I realise this is a massive generalisation and that some expats are highly politically motivated by events in their old country or politically engaged in their new one. I also know that, as most expats do not change citizenship, they are frequently barred from local or national elections in their new country and this does not help encourage them to take much of an interest.

Yet it seems to me as if, irrespective of nationality, expats as a group appear to be generally disinterested in politics. When expats are together, politics is rarely a subject at the forefront of discussion. We all seem much more inclined to get on with the business of living in the real world than engaging in debates about who is representing whom in the central government.

This begs the question as to whether expats are apolitical before they leave, or become so by virtue of living overseas.

I can’t prove it of course but I have a hunch it is the latter. I suspect a combination of factors mean that expats become detached from the political world to some extent. If one is trying to concentrate on a new language, getting children settled, earning a living, making new friends and all the other things expats have to deal with, then suddenly news about squabbles in Parliament or The Senate just doesn’t seem relevant any more.

Of course the counter argument runs along the lines that all life is politics and perhaps that’s right, but even so, there is an intriguing possibility.

Possibly we should try and get everyone in the world to spend a few years overseas as an expat. If my hunch is correct then the result would be a global population that is largely, or perhaps even totally, apolitical.

We may have found the way to make politicians obsolete!

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