WHY YOU SHOULD STOP USING THE WORD EXPAT IN GERMANY

The never-ending expat debate needs to end now. I’ll be honest and admit that I used to use the word a lot when I didn’t know any better. I even called my blog a “travel and expat living blog” where I wrote about my world travels and life abroad in Germany.

Then in 2021, my mind was completely changed after I asked The Berlin Life community what the word means to them.

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STOP USING THE WORD EXPAT 

Here are screenshots highlighting the thoughts of our community members (identities have been blurred for obvious privacy reasons):

Expat Is An Outdated Term
Expat Is a Classist and Racist Term
Expats Refer to White People
Expat Is A Bad Word

If you want even more insight into why the term is considered hurtful, this Guardian article does a pretty good job of explaining. 

After learning what the word implies for them and how it makes them feel, I didn’t hesitate to stop using it entirely and removed all instances of expat from The Berlin Life. I now make it a habit to avoid using the term “expat” and opt for newbie or foreigner instead.

Yet plenty of content creators in Germany — who are almost always white, lecture their followers with dictionary definitions and argue about why using the term is perfectly acceptable from their point of view. Arguing dictionary definitions is condescending, it minimizes other people’s thoughts and feelings, and ultimately, those definitions don’t matter when in reality, the terms are used differently.

Other content creators openly acknowledge the situation, yet still purposely choose to use the word expat (even boldly admitting it publicly) because it gets them more clicks and views.

In either, it’s their doubling down on the issue that contributes to the problem and even makes it worse. They fail to understand how their online influence can reinforce or change people’s existing beliefs and values.

Many other regular folks (who aren’t content creators) stubbornly cling to the word as well, insisting that we can take the terms back and make them mean what they literally mean. While that sounds really nice, it’s not ever going to happen. Affluence, race, country of origin, etc. will continue to exert power over people’s word choices.

I was happy to see Exberliner, soon to be The Berliner, share some of the various reasons for their name change. Among them was the association with the words expat:

But by far the most common misinterpretation of the name is that it means ‘Expat Berliner’. This is much more problematic and harder to shake. These days, the term ‘expat’ feels inherently exclusive and unrepresentative. The lines between migrant, immigrant and expat are blurry at best, and classist and racist at worst.

 

Perhaps we need a new way to refer to everyone who moves here from a different country. Something like ‘international people’ or even just ‘internationals’ is much more fitting and catch-all. It’s true that people who move here from different places have different experiences and are treated differently, but labelling people and separating them only foments division. 

Why would you continue to use a word that causes harm and hurt to others? The appropriate response is super simple – listen to others, consider their feelings, and just stop using the word.

Will you stop using the word expat after reading this? What are your thoughts on the issue? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

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Cheryl Howard, Founder @ The Berlin Life

Cheryl Howard, Founder @ The Berlin Life

Hi, I’m Cheryl. My mission is to help you move to Berlin and find work.

A Canadian in Berlin for 10+ years, I have the unique experience of moving to Berlin – not once, but twice. During my time in Berlin, I’ve had five different visas and worked as both a freelancer and a permanent employee for numerous Berlin companies. I even managed to find a new job during the pandemic and again in 2023, during Germany’s recession and massive layoffs in tech. 

My day job has involved work as a hiring manager, overseeing the recruitment of countless people, as well as a team coach helping teams and individuals work better and find happiness in their careers. Through my side projects, I’ve also shared my personal experiences by publishing a series of helpful blog posts, creating a thriving community of job seekers, and hosting events to help people find work in Berlin. In 2021, I decided to put my coaching and recruiting talents to use by creating The Berlin Life, bringing my existing content and community together in one spot.

The combination of my personal and professional experience means I know exactly what it takes to move to Berlin and find work.