“How Can You Be So Unpatriotic?”

Nikki was returning to the States to visit our kids and grandkids an d when she went through Atlanta she encountered the U.S. welcome committee at what used to be U. S. Immigration, now the “Department of Homeland Security.” (Sorry folks, but that just sounds so Third Reich to me! When did we change the name to the “Homeland”?) Anyway, the cordial Homeland Security officer asked, “What were you doing in Panama?” Nikki replied that she lived in Panama. He asked, “What are you, too good for us?” Who knows maybe the guys wife forced him to spend the night on the couch. Same airport. Another guy asked me the same question, and when I said I lived in Panama he said, “Cool!” and waved me through.

I had a reviewer of THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA write in his Amazon review, ” It seemed Mr. Detrich developed some sort of anti-U.S. perspective sometime during his younger years. I could detect animosity towards the U.S. in some of his writing.” (Am I just too sensitive, or does that come across as McCarthyism?)

Anyway, I found this post, “How Can You Be So Unpatriotic?” by Lee Harrison in International Living.  I confess a lot of International Living’s stuff I find to be at best filtered with rose colored glasses and at worst … but this I thought was pretty good.

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.

I think my ancestors … who came across from Bavaria on a ship called MINERVA, and arrived in Philadelphia October 26, 1767, married his sweetheart … a shipboard romance … and later served in the American Revolution where he achieved some fame as “The Drummer Boy of the Conococheague” … would agree.

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