Moving to Norway was disorientating. My identity had been straightforward until then. Child. Student. Nurse. I came from Norwich. Simple enough.
Then I arrived in Norway. They didn’t recognise my education. Was I still a nurse? Or was I simply The Norwegian’s girlfriend?
There was no point saying I was from Norwich, no one knew where it was. I was from England, somewhere ‘near London’. Mostly I was summed up as being foreign, an alien, en utlending.
It was simpler in Australia. I was a Brit, one of many.
Moving to Zurich complicated things. I started German classes soon after arriving. The group smiled politely at each other, the only way we could communicate. We had to say where we were from. “Ich komme aus England” was all I could manage. I would have been more inclusive, but I didn’t know the German word for the United Kingdom.
I was left with an uneasy feeling though. By giving the impression that I’d just moved from England I’d somehow lost 14 years of my life. Britain had moved on without me, and without the opportunity to fill in the gaps a big chunk of my identity was missing.
A new word emerged in Zurich. Expat. Was I an expat? I didn’t think so, it sounded so exotic. Then one day I decided to Google it out of curiosity. As far as I could tell it was the same as a foreigner, just a nicer way of putting it.
So I think I will adopt the term for my Zurich life. For now at least, I am an expat in Switzerland.