It’s a can of worms, but you can have your say by voting in our survey at the bottom of the post.
Wait, what’s a Trailing Spouse?
The term Trailing Spouse is used to describe a partner or spouse who relocates internationally because of their partners’ career. It’s a definition that was coined back in the 1980’s when Walkmen, shoulder-pads and perms were cool.
Perms, shoulder pads and Walkmen aren’t so cool anymore and yet, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, the Trailing Spouse label has stuck. It has stuck despite many wanting to rip it off, chuck it on a bonfire and burn it.
Who uses the term?
The term is relatively little known outside expat communities, so ironically, it’s mostly Trailing Spouses who use the label.
Why can’t we all just be expats?
We can. We are. If you like the term and identify with it, use it.
However, the expat label only tells people that you live abroad. If you want to expand on that to answer questions such as ‘why have you moved here?’ or ‘what do you do?’ there are a whole host of labels used as shorthand in expat communities. Here are just a few of them:
Serial Expat, Diplomatic Expat, Corporate Expat, Career Expat, Military Spouse, Lovepat, Expat on the Costa del Sol, Repat, Expat Brat, Diplobrat, Half-pat, TCK (Third Culture Kid), ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid), immigrant, hidden immigrant, retiree expat, expat entrepreneur (occasionally you hear this shortened to expatpreneur), exchange student.
Why don’t we like it?
The connotations of trailing are considered to be derogatory and patronizing. Synonyms for trailing include traipsing, following, trudging, dragging and lagging. This can give the impression that each of us is mindlessly following our very own Pied Piper.
Does everybody loath it?
No. Plenty of expats use the term tongue in cheek and the perception of the term can vary greatly depending on the age, location, cultural background and portability of the careers of the expats involved. As an aside, other synonyms for trailing are hunting and tracking, which are more positive.
Why has the Trailing spouse label stuck?
None of the alternatives to Trailing Spouse has set the expat world alight and caught on. Some alternatives are politically correct, but awfully dull. Others are silly and some area wee bit try-hard.
Equally, if you type Trailing Spouse into a search engine you can find a lot of information, (even if – oh the irony – it’s just articles bemoaning its use). So perhaps the reason it’s still around is precisely because it’s so contentious, a chicken and egg situation?
What do you want to be called?
Three more alternatives I’m throwing into the ring
In business a rainmaker is a mover and shaker who brings new business and clients and makes things happen. In the expat world, it is often the non-working partner who forges the social contacts and keeps the show on the road, so how about Relocation Rainmaker? This could be shortened to just Expat Rainmaker or even just Rainmaker.
In sport the Goalkeeper defends the goal. Substitute goal for home/family/partner. The word goalie has positive connotations of defender, protector or guardian. Equally the goalkeeper is a unique and versatile team member. They can play anywhere on the pitch and can score goals. So Expat Goalie could be yet another option.
Dung Beetle is a slightly off the wall alternative. You can read more about the thinking behind that here.
Here’s your chance to have your say. Vote now.
So what’s the verdict or is the jury still out? How do you think we should refer to ourselves? Share your thoughts in the comments.
I’m also interested to know whether there are similar labels in other languages. Perhaps there is a chic sounding French alternative that would give us a certain je ne sais quoi? Or is there an efficient and professional sounding German equivalent? Or is the trailing spouse label a quirk of the English language and/or a symptom of English often being the lingua franca in international communities? Again, your words of wisdom are appreciated.
Or should we instead stop agonizing over labels at all and rather just focus on living our best expat lives? This could mean building our businesses, raising our families, being career chameleons and appreciating the privileges and opportunities that go hand in glove with our global mobility.