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Expat Life

Does becoming an expat make you less American?

By Kathleen Peddicord

I get this question a lot.

I’ve been living outside the States for 19 years, and, to answer the question I’m so often asked, I’ve never felt more American than I do today.

Living in the States (I lived in Baltimore, Maryland, for my first 35 years), we Americans take being American for granted. Every year since I left Baltimore, I’ve been more aware of my American-ness.

Thinking superficially, this is easy to understand. My husband and I, along with our children, lived in Ireland for seven years, long enough to acquire Irish passports even. But we’re not Irish… not really.

We were in Paris for four years, and both our children think of that city as home. It’s where our blended family bonded, where my son, Jackson, started school, and from where my daughter, Kaitlin, left our nest to start college.

Just because you live in France doesn’t make you French.

We still have the apartment where we four lived together. In fact, it’s from this apartment that I write today.

Here, in storage, we keep plastic tubs containing school report cards and gifts the kids made for me for Mother’s Days. Seated at my little desk in the living room, as I am right now, everywhere I look brings back more memories from when my children were young.

We love being here in Paris, but we’re surely not French.

In Panama, where we lived for nine years, as in Ireland and in Paris, we put down roots. We have friends, our children have friends, and we’re building a house on the beach at Los Islotes that is part of our long-term plan. We’re in Panama for the long haul… but we’ll never be Panamanian.

No… we’re American, from our accents to our Levi’s.

And in less obvious ways, too.

When I sit down in a business meeting anywhere in the world, I’m the American at the table. I could be negotiating the cost of an apartment for sale in Buenos Aires, Argentina… considering a new business idea in Panama City, Panama… meeting with a new writer in Paris, France… or discussing residency visa options with an attorney in Medellín, Colombia. On the other end of the conversation is an Argentine, a Panamanian, a Frenchman, a Colombian… what have you. I’m the American. And to the table I bring the American perspective.

The longer I’m outside the States, the greater has grown my appreciation for what that means and also for how unique our American perspective is.

The rest of the world doesn’t think like we Americans think. That’s neither good nor bad. It just is. And it creates an opportunity.

I have the chance, every time I engage with some non-American anywhere in the world, to learn from his non-American ways… and to put my American ways to good use.

We Americans are the world’s optimists. We believe in ourselves and in our collective ability to figure things out… to make things better… to make things work.

We’re dreamers… and wanderers. We value hard work, we like efficiency, and we pride ourselves on our willingness to act on opportunity when we perceive one.

What’s over the next hill? Let’s go find out. What could we do tomorrow that we didn’t do today? Let’s get up early in the morning and figure that out. How can we make this thing, this idea, this effort better? Let’s roll up our sleeves and see where a little elbow grease leads us…

Those are American sentiments. Wherever we travel in the world, whoever we encounter, personally or in business, these are the attitudes that we bring to the table.

So, yes, living overseas I feel more American than ever. In a good way.

Kathleen Peddicord is publisher of Live and Invest Overseas.

Credit: Live and Invest Overseas,

15 thoughts on “Does becoming an expat make you less American?

  1. I understand the author’s take on national identity and I won’t quibble. But, given the current state of political animus in the US, I’m not sure what “American” is anymore. I said I wouldn’t quibble so I won’t debate what is meant by American/unAmerican. But having recently retired abroad I have to say that the opinions of what it means to be a loyal citizen in the US have never been further apart nor less compatible. And, it seems that the leaders of reactionary conservativist doctrine and militant populism are determined to crush liberty in order to promote unitarian identity. I can’t identify with such a regime. I guess that would make me unamerican in the view of the currently dominant ideologues.

  2. I have met too many expats that trash their home country, of course mostly the US. They seem to forget that their wealth and good fortune to even be an expat is a result of the freedoms, education, and opportunity provided by the US (and Canada too). The common theme seems to be money (cost of living) and politics, but also generalizations like it is a consumer oriented society, its dangerous, traffic is crazy, everyone is in a hurry, whatever the list goes on.

    That said I am sorry if you are an economic refuge and did not plan years ago for retirement (and chose to consume), do not blame that on your home country. People from around the world come to the US to make their fortune and future, and chances are you have met many. Others have sacrificed and saved.

    Instead of being glued to Fox news or CNN letting them define the US, or the politics with rhetoric, take a look around you. Neighbors and even relatives are probably a diverse group of people right ? Well that is the US and Ecuador too. The definition of the US I subscribe to is freedom, diversity and opportunity, the rest is up to individuals to use these great tools.

    Needless to say I am lucky to have been born in the US and a proud to be a citizen. And BTW, this takes nothing away from my admiration of Ecuador (or the UK, or Canada, and so on).

    1. Sometimes facts are not pleasant. You obviously are very close to many relatives and friends who are admirable people, however that is not the case for everyone nor does staying cloistered in your group portray the US objectively. You seem to be overly sensitive to the reality of a world in crisis, including the US. One does not need to stay glued to CNN or Fox to gather information. I believe what the author was saying, in general, is that no matter where you were born and what nationality you claim, exploring and learning about other cultures and collaboration with a diversity of people leads to knowledge and sometime exchanges of ideas and information which can be productive to each. Why do some regulars on this site feel the need to tear down any posts except those written by themselves or a select few? If you are so “pro”, US, and find that it is perfect with no room for improvement, then why do you choose to live elsewhere? Or is it that you really don’t live outside the US? Many hide behind curtains on this site, which is fine but then your postings are not worthy of the message. Believing that there are things that need to be changed for the better does not make one anti American or anti wherever you happen to call home.

    2. I agree with many of your points. I’m not as patriotic as you because I see too much stain on US history. Beginning with the annihilation of the American Indian, then slavery followed by racism, then military mistakes like Vietnam and Iraq. But like you say, there is also a lot of good to be found in the US, and I personally reaped the benefits. I hope that the country will find it’s way. I enjoy being in the US as much as I enjoy being here in Ecuador. My problem is that I haven’t figured out a way to be in two places at once.
      You’re also fortunate to live where you do, as far as diversity and tolerance for other ways of thinking go. It probably doesn’t get much better than a college town in the state of Vermont.

  3. The idea that Americans have some special ability to dream, to work hard, to recognize opportunity and capitalize on it when we see it, is pernicious nonsense; and any self-aware American who spent more than five minutes living in other countries would immediately recognize that there is nothing special about Americans except, perhaps, our arrogance. Try convincing a Chinese or Vietnamese person that we work harder. Try convincing an Italian, or a Tanzanian, or an Ecuadorian that we dream better dreams. We just like the idea that we’re exceptional because it’s an excuse to waste 25% of the world’s natural resources.

    1. Amen, Scott. And the state of our healthcare, the lack of educational resources for the less-than-wealthy, and the hopelessness that permeates the average citizen who can’t make enough money working full-time to support his family… Americans have nothing to brag about. Did you know that the average, not-so-well-to-do Ecuadorian youth can go to university for free? For that matter, young people in many parts of the world have access to free education and healthcare. It’s the conservative way to keep the “less-thans” functionally barefoot and pregnant — and ignorant (not stupid, but uneducated), because it’s the enlightenment one receives through higher educationt that allows attitude and goals to evolve and embrace a more liberal mindset. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate the benefits (such as they were) of growing up in the US, and there are many things I still love about my home country. But I have to say, right now? — I feel more Ecuadorian than I do American.

  4. The author has represented the worst of Americanism by her exploitative marketing tactics in misrepresenting what it takes to be an expat (reference books and seminars), yet has not lived in the US for 19 years. A lot has changed in the US in 19 years and she has NO idea what it is like there now. Good ol’ American values have deteriorated dramatically in those 19 years. My take is that this is yet another misrepresentation (albeit fluffy and inaccurate) soon to be followed by another marketing gimmick.

  5. We don’t have enough people devouring Breitbart’s racist swill in the States, apparently we need to import them from Britain. Who knew?

    1. Muslim immigrants they allowed in (and now trying their best to oust) causing great harm and damages there. Read the REAL news and learn, please.

      1. Sueetta, I don’t have to listen to racist TV or read racist web sites to know what things are like in Paris. I _go_ there. I’ve probably been there half a dozen times in the last 15 years. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

        1. I honestly know at least ten folks that spent time in France, just this year. Only one mentioned refugees. My cousin just got back and lived there four years That is her retirement destination, in five years. She is sixty now and has a business, in Marin County (California)

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