For varied reasons, 4 million Americans call some other country home

By Jerry Schwartz

10:03 a.m. April 23, 2005

More Americans than ever before have decided that America is no longer their home.

They've put down roots abroad, from Cuba (an estimated 2,000 Americans, the latest figures show) to the United Kingdom (224,000). They're in Germany (210,880), in the Philippines (105,000), in Israel (184,195).

If they were a U.S. state – call it Expatria – its population, some 4 million Americans, would place it right in the middle, along with Kentucky and South Carolina.

Expatriates, citizens of this floating, far-flung state, are changing the very definition of "American."

"What does nationality really mean in these days, in these times of great mobility, at a time when there is an opportunity to make one's way in a society without really any serious impediments?" asks Tom Rose, a 68-year-old retired businessman who has spent all but a few years abroad since 1961, most of them in Paris.

Rose and others have forsaken America for many reasons. They fall in love with a foreigner, or with an exotic place or culture. They are looking for an adventure, or for a cheaper place to live. They go because their job is there, or because their heart is no longer here.

Or, like Glen Rubenstein, they have given up on the American political system.

"It seemed too hopeless a future to me," battling for a liberal agenda in a country that has become so conservative, he says. And so last year, he, his wife and their two children gave up their lives in Brooklyn and moved to Montreal.

The Rubenstein family arrived in Canada last June, before some opponents of the Bush administration, embittered by the Republican victory in November, declared that they were going North. Canada already was home to the second largest American community abroad – 687,700 (the largest is Mexico, with 1.04 million).

But moving to Canada – or Italy or Nepal – is not as simple as crossing a border. Like so many others, the Rubensteins are exploring what it means to be both American and not American.

"We're going to be Americans living in Canada in some sense – that will never change, no matter what. We're Americans in our upbringing and experience ... but we want to be part of Canada," says Rubenstein, a 44-year-old community organizer.

Rubenstein is following a trail blazed in the 1960s and '70s by draft resisters who fled to Canada; the number is estimated between 50,000 and 100,000, and about 25,000 remain there today, men in their 50s and 60s who have built new lives.

The disaffected had left the United States before. After World War I, members of the Lost Generation – disillusioned with the war's slaughter, dispirited by America's conservative nature – settled in Europe, particularly in France. The number of Americans living overseas more than doubled, from 55,608 in 1910 to 117,238 in 1920.

But that was a small increase compared with what was to come. In 1940 there were almost 119,000 Americans living overseas; in 1950, there were more than 481,000, and in 1960, 1.37 million.

These were, for the most part, not disgruntled people. In the postwar era, America's muscular economy sent businessmen and their families all over. At the same time, travel became easier, and cheaper, and Americans became more affluent and open to foreign adventure.

Bob Guggenheimer studied medicine in Paris. But in 1948, a love affair ended badly; Paris was too cold and miserable. So he moved to Madrid, where he paid 50 cents to rent an apartment (including room, board and laundry), went to work for International News Service and told the local youngsters that, no, not all Americans carried six-shooters, as they did in the movies.

He's still there, and these days, he's got company. "People are coming over – they're setting up businesses here, they like the way of life," says Guggenheimer, 79.

And not just in Spain:

–Sondra Hausner, a 34-year-old native New Yorker, braves communist insurgents to live in Katmandu, Nepal, where she helps ensure that foreign aid gets to the people who need it. She eats as Nepalis eat – rice and vegetables – and dresses as they do, in a tunic over pants.

"Life is so scripted in America, where people plan their calendar three weeks in advance. Here, life is interesting. ... One has to be creative, spontaneous," she says.

–Craig Carlson, a struggling screenwriter, had split time between Los Angeles and Paris when he moved to the City of Light to open Breakfast in America, a diner in the Latin Quarter.

"One day I found myself in my Paris apartment," he recalls. "I was coming out to go to the market, a piano was playing somewhere inside and church bells were off in the distance and this realization hit me that I don't want to grow old in L.A. It was a very strong feeling and I just knew this was where I wanted to be."

–In 1966, singer Barbara Dane went to Cuba for a monthlong concert tour. When Fidel Castro came to her hotel to thank her, Dane responded with a request: Might her 14-year-old son Pablo, an aspiring guitarist, study at the famed Escuela Nacional de Arte?

His stay was supposed to last a year, but plans changed. He fell in love with a 19-year-old Cuban woman and married her. He built a musical career, traveling the world with his Afro-Cuban fusion band Mezcla, but always returning to Havana.

"After a number of years, it really boiled down to the point of when the plane landed in Havana, (I felt) like I was coming home," he says. "And at a certain point, I can't remember when it was, that's what happened."

–Charles and Jeanne Manfredi retired and left California for a European adventure that was expected to last about five years. Twenty-one years later, they still live in Sorrento, eating farfalle at a favorite trattoria, sniffing the orange blossoms of an afternoon stroll.

"It's a great antidote for the American disease of instant gratifications. You slow down and eventually things 'arrange themselves,' as Italians say here," Charles says.

Still, Italy is not paradise for all of the expats who have settled there.

Rome is "unlivable, very complicated" – the streets full of obstacles, the locals cool to foreigners, the cost of sending kids to private American schools high, says Andrea Lorenzetti.

Why does she stay? Thirty years ago, she married an Italian man, and they've lived there ever since. She recalls meeting an American woman who explained that she lived in Rome because she was married to an Italian man who died 14 years ago.

"And I said, 'And you're still here? I would leave the day after the funeral,'" she says.

Phyllis Michaux, too, married a European, a Frenchman, after World War II. She did not give much thought to the ramifications of moving to Paris.

"I was marrying this guy who looked like David Niven – that's all I knew," she says.

She is 82 now, and aside from five years when she moved back to the Washington area, she has lived in Paris ever since. The suave man of her dreams died months ago.

She raised two children in France. In those days, children who had one American parent had to spend five consecutive years in America between the ages 14 and 28 to retain their citizenship; circumstances intervened, and Michaux's children never did.

"I wanted my children to be American," she says. "Because it's part of me."

Lucy Laederich also raised two children in France. They're now adults, and their sense of their own nationality is complicated. She speaks English to them, and they sometimes speak French in response.

"My daughter said to me not long ago that she really was not – and this was devastating to me – but she was not comfortable speaking to me in English, because she doesn't feel like herself," says Laederich, 60, who has lived in France for three decades.

"I would have loved for them to have had more of an American experience. I am deeply, profoundly American – I would never become French."

Others say that while they may not become French or Thai or English, they are no longer entirely American, either.

"Can I really be corny?" asks Sharon Minetta, 56, who has lived in England for much of the past 25 years, and as a textile conservator has even worked on a sail from Horatio Nelson's flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar.

"There's a Neil Diamond song that said, 'L.A.'s fine but it ain't home, New York's home but it ain't mine no more,' and that's sort of true. Over here I feel very much that I am an American but when I go home sometimes, sadly – because I love my country very much – I don't feel that I belong there very much anymore."

Rose, the retired businessman living in Paris, finds that he has lost touch with American television personalities and the like – "certain finer points about the culture begin to escape you because you just haven't been living with them. And the culture is changing all the time."

But American culture is everywhere these days, and some expats say they are constantly reminded of their nationality.

"It's the worst: It's the generalization of a generalization," says Sherrie Morreall Gavin, 33, who moved to Melbourne, Australia, from upstate New York three years ago. "It's like, 'Oh I know what you think because you're American, and all Americans think alike,' even the little things, like, we all like Diet Coke."

There are other times when expatriates feel American precisely because little attention is paid to their nationality.

"I felt a lot of anger after Sept. 11," says Peter Derheimer, a 49-year-old native of Fort Wayne, Ind., who has been a timpanist with the Royal Seville Symphony since 1991.

The orchestra was scheduled to play three days after the terrorist attacks, but there were no plans to mark the tragedies.

Derheimer felt the need to do something. So when the orchestra tuned up, before the conductor came on stage, "I tuned up to 'The Star-Spangled Banner' – bing, bi bing, bing bing bing... And the trombone player who is American turned around and smiled at me. And the Russian concert master looked at me – like, 'What the hell are you up to?'"

Then, last year, when terrorists bombed commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 and wounding more than 1,500, Derheimer joined the millions who demonstrated in Seville, to express his support of the Spanish people and their fight against terrorism.

"I went – and I walked out with an American flag pin on my lapel," he says.


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