Global Hipster Culture: In Defense of Ex-pat Neighborhoods
In a recent post we compared a couple of popular ex-pat neighborhoods in Valencia, Spain. It got me thinking about what we typically look for when we are apartment hunting in a new city; something we do several times a year. It's interesting that living in a neighborhood that is popular with ex-pats incites criticism from all sides which I feel is not really fair.
As an aside, there are interesting debates on pretty much all the Facebook groups and internet forums I participate in about the term "ex-pat" versus "immigrant". As someone who has been an immigrant (i.e. living somewhere I wasn't born) for the last 18 years, I recognize the titles we give to people based on their economic means or the color of their skin are ridiculous. I don't really want to get into that here even though it is a really interesting debate. Instead, I thought I'd talk about what's important to us when researching the locations where we chose to stay. After all, the perfectly photographed AirBnB listing quickly becomes less than ideal if it's in an awful neighborhood.
When planning our relocation to a new city the first thing we do is research the neighborhoods we think will suit us best. I begin by identifying the wealthiest neighborhoods together with those most popular with tourists and usually strike them off our list. I then tend to google terms like "best ex-pat neighborhood", "where do young professionals live", "lively ", "up & coming" or "hipster neighborhood" and see what pops up. Another favorite search of ours is to find out where the craft beer bars located. In our experience they tend to be in parts of town that appeal more to us. You may have different priorities but that's what works for us! Each to their own.
Some people may say, in fact we have heard this criticism personally, that we are not living an authentic experience because we choose to be among well heeled locals and ex-pats. But I have thought about this a lot and have a couple of points to make. Firstly, if I was still in the United States I would probably be living in a middle-class, mixed culture neighborhood. I had a firmly British working class childhood and have lived in all sorts of places. During my college years in particular some were distinctly unsavory but through the years, as my career progressed, I have been fortunate enough to have climbed the property ladder and lived in much more pleasant surroundings. Secondly, I wonder why a middle class neighborhood is considered less authentic. Modern cities have all kinds of diverse people living in them so isn't experiencing a more affluent location just a different kind of real? In actual fact, isn't considering the middle-class neighborhood as inauthentic just reverse snobbery?
Some people gravitate to living in gated communities or specific urbanizations designed around a golf course, lake or some other type of club. There's the comfort as you pass through the gates of being away from the hustle and bustle of the daily trip to the grocery store or restaurant . That's the beauty of choice but the lifestyle doesn't appeal to me at this stage in my life. I wouldn't want to live in a gated community back in the US either. But I get why people like to live that way, whatever floats your boat.
Budget can of course dictate where you live. And depending on the city, what we can afford may affect which part of town we can chose. That brings up a hugely thorny issue of income disparity. No doubt people like us choosing to live in a country with a lower cost of living has an effect on that economy. In some ways it's good - bringing money into a local community should have a positive impact on many businesses. But in other ways it's bad, driving up costs for the locals is a real problem. That's a tough issue that needs a blog post and probably a long form article all of it's own.
To be honest we are pretty predictable ex-pats. We don't like places that are over-run by tourists (see our Lisbon post). We prefer places where there is more of a cosmopolitan feel and there is a variety of cultures to sample. We like a good selection of bars, restaurants and cafes serving a variety of global offerings. Without this variety I think we would get bored.
We have stayed in lots of these types of neighborhoods around the world. It is clear that there is a global hipster culture that has pervaded every continent. Everywhere we go we see Edison lightbulbs, reclaimed wood, colored bicycles with plant pots in them and whatever the latest Ikea ornament of choice is but I don't mind. Maybe it's because I love (like really love) avocado on toast. But it is also because I see these places exist alongside local spots and while there may be a craft beer bar and hipster barbershop in pretty much every neighborhood we've visited from Bali, to Valencia, to Thailand to San Diego - all of them are also distinctly different from each other. They are hybrids of global culture influence mixed in with a local spin and identity. If I am honest, I like a good mix of familiarity along with the new and I am not going to apologize for that.