Project Xpat: What It Means To Be An Expatriate

· Dec. 5, 2013, 4:37 pm

When American expatriate Charles Trueheart was young, he lived all over the world — in Ankara, London, Saigon and Paris. His father was an American diplomat.

When Charlie was older, he moved back to the U.S. He went to college at Amherst. Eventually, he and his wife, Anne Swardson, became international correspondents for The Washington Post.

I was Charlie’s editor at the Post for several stories. He is a lovely writer and a good friend.

In 1996, Charlie and Anne — and their children Louise and Henry — moved to Paris. Charlie and Anne have lived there ever since.

Today Anne is editor-at-large for Bloomberg News. And Charlie is director of the American Library in Paris.

I asked Charlie this question: What does it mean to you to be an expatriate? Here is an edited version — I was his editor, remember — of his thoughtful and thought-provoking reply.


Even after 17 years in Paris, Charlie writes, “setting out in the morning into this city I am fully aware that I am a stranger, that by dumb luck I am enjoying being virtually incognito in another culture. I enjoy being fully assimilated but also at odds with my surroundings.

“Everything remains fresh and discoverable. … When frustrated, I blame the French for their idiotic ways and stubborn Frenchness. But when I see that Frenchness fade, as I have over these years, I mourn for its passing.

“What used to be more different is now less different: the convergence of my becoming accustomed and acculturated, and France’s becoming more international, more English-speaking.

“Today we are deprived of almost nothing that you can get or see where you live, except perhaps a favorite toothpaste or peanut butter brand.

“And as an American in Paris, how am I regarded? Frankly in a cosmopolitan place like this, Americans, foreigners, are a dime a dozen. So that is a comfort, really. You don’t stick out even when you are called on being non-native. This is more and more the case.

“The expat is the new global person.”


As part of Project Xpat, NPR asked American expatriates to answer — in 10 words or less — the 10-word question: What does it mean to you to be an expatriate? Over the next few weeks, we will post some of the more thoughtful and telling responses. Now follows the first group:


“I’m American first, black second … most of the time.” — Tatiana Richards Hanebutte, 30, Germany


“I take a little Americana with me wherever I live.” — May Tien, 37, New Zealand


“Seeing what the world has to offer without compromise.” — Steve Thin, 29, China


“Colder winters, warmer beer, but more money for my science.” — Abigail Ferrieri, 28, Germany


“Cereal sucks, traffic’s horrific, but I’m loving the experience.” — Sharonne Seitz, 29, Qatar


“Witnessing elements of my society permeate others.” — Dylan Ferguson, 19, Canada


“The world is far too interesting to stay at home.” — Kathy Kyle Bonomini, 37, England


“The more I learn, the less I know.” — Kimberly Hope, 27, South Korea


“Apologizing or taking credit for American foreign policy.” — Matt Rosemier, 55, England


The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers – Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers – of NPR. @NPRtpj

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