Guest Post by Lee Harrison, International Living
“How Can You Be So Unpatriotic?”
By most accounts, the time I chose to retire abroad was actually the perfect time to remain in the U.S.
The country had just enjoyed eight years of unprecedented prosperity…unemployment was near record peacetime lows, and the markets had recently enjoyed run-ups to all-time highs.
I was living on the 30th floor of a Midtown Manhattan highrise, rent free. I had a good job and walked just five blocks to the office on Madison Avenue from which we ran our international electric power plants.
The attacks of September 11—and all the dramatic changes they brought to American life—were still three days in the future when our plane took off for our overseas retirement haven.
Times were good, to be sure. But as many expats will tell you, what awaited us was even better…an extraordinary, grand adventure in an exotic land.
Yet those of us who live overseas frequently hear this: “How can you be so unpatriotic by moving abroad…especially in times like these? You expats are just running away…”
I wasn’t surprised to see it among my emails again yesterday, since I’ve been seeing a variation on this theme as regular as clockwork for years. And it makes no more sense today than it ever did. In fact, today’s expats are really continuing a pioneering tradition that was started hundreds of years ago.
As we head into the long July 4 weekend, it’s a good time to consider the patriotism of moving overseas.
The vast majority of the expats I meet are either adventurers or entrepreneurs…often both. They move overseas to take advantage of the excitement and the opportunity of living in a new country.
I see expats who enjoy a better quality of life…one that wouldn’t be possible back home with their available funds. And often, they reinvent themselves and break into a brand new livelihood.
Still others come to mine the wealth of financial and business opportunities abroad, in a less-regulated environment. I see people making property investments, starting up new businesses, or taking advantage of offshore accounts.
Of course a few move abroad in desperation…people who can’t afford their property tax burden, medical care, or other life necessities.
In no case though, can I recall meeting anyone I’d call “unpatriotic.”
I think that label gets tossed around willy-nilly when, in fact, it’s a small (though admittedly, sometimes vocal) segment of expats that is driven to leave home primarily by dissatisfaction. Made up of both conservatives and liberals, this group is unhappy with the state of affairs in the U.S.. and they like to talk about intrusive government, oppressive taxes, and the degradation of their freedom.
But I don’t think that makes them unpatriotic. In my experience, these folks are simply trying to re-capture a version of the U.S. that existed at an earlier time in their lives, or in another era altogether.
In many ways, we expats today are not so different from our founding fathers, who explored and settled in North America originally. They too arrived as the adventurers, the entrepreneurs, the desperate, and the freedom-seekers…just like expats today.
They too, preferred to look ahead with anticipation… rather than look back with resentment.
Of course, our ancestors who came from Europe, Asia and Africa had it rough compared to today’s expats. Our forefathers faced disease, hostility, violent weather, slavery, and often death. They were tough and life was often hard.
Today, the main hardships I hear about have to do with the availability of American cable TV or the locals’ ability to speak English. The gravest personal danger is usually encountering a pickpocket in the market.
But today’s expats share something even more important with our ancestors; their spirit of freedom, adventure and opportunity. We find it on the cobblestoned streets of Ecuador, the mountains of Colombia, or the sandy shores of Uruguay and Brazil. We stroll beaches, start businesses, learn languages, and settle into new surroundings.
So is moving abroad unpatriotic? Not at all.
Throughout our history, expats—both those arriving in North America and those moving on—have always represented the next cultural wave…the next big adventure.
And today’s expats are no different. They’re simply continuing the adventure that started hundreds of years ago…in the same spirit that brought our ancestors here in the first place.
Do you agree with Lee? I sure do — and I’m forwarding this to my mother-in-law. Share your thoughts in the Comments below.
Lynne Diligent says
I wonder if many expats are viewed as being unpatriotic as a hangover from the Vietnam War. I remember hearing a lot about this as a kid during the war, about those, “who ran away to Canada.” I wonder if it just became generally assumed in the society that people were leaving either because they hated the country or were dissatisfied, or did not want to participate in either defense or in paying taxes? I’m glad you’ve stated here that this is just a minority of expats. In fact, in twenty years of being an expat, I have yet to meet even one person who claims that they left for either tax reasons or for evading serving in the armed forces. But of course, those are the cases that people hear about, because they are the ones the media picks up.
That’s an interesting observation! As a teenager during the Vietnam War era, I saw firsthand the effects of the draft and the criticism of those who headed north over the border to avoid it. I wonder if anyone has a sense of whether one age group is more critical of expats’ patriotism than another?
Jimmy Trent says
I don’t think it’s unpatriotic to move to a country in that context, if it were the case, how many years would it take after a war for it not be a problem? Over time there have been wars between nearly all the countries/continents in the world, so essentially it’s unpatriotic to move anywhere! My only advice to anyone moving abroad is to make sure that they have adequate expat health insurance for their stay, some of my friends learnt the hard way.
And if moving from one country to another is unpatriotic, what about all the immigrants who’ve populated the US?