Another jurisdiction that has a particularly rich expat/offshore vocabulary is Isle of Man. Like Singapore – where expats are known as ang mo, or ang moh (“red-haired one”), among other terms) – it’s cultivated an expressive set of words to describe the outsiders who have been frequenting its shores in large numbers ever since Victorians from Liverpool and Manchester began spending their summer holidays there.
For example, anyone who has lived in the Isle of Man for less than 10 years is a mere “come-over”; those who have been resident for between 10 and 30 years are “stop-overs”. You only get to be a full-fledged “stay-over” when you’ve been there 30 years.
And to be well and truly Manx, you have to have been born on the island, though an even higher degree of Manx-ness is awarded to those who can attest to both sets of grandparents having been born on the island.
Woe to anyone from “off island”, meanwhile, who lets slip any remotely derogatory comments about the place while paying it a visit: They will be reminded, in no uncertain terms, of the fact that “there’s always a boat in the morning”. (Jersey and Guernsey locals say this is in common use in those islands as well.)
A ‘joy of being an expat’
For new arrivals to foreign jurisdictions, learning the words and phrases that longer-established expatriates enthusiastically pepper their conversations with is one of the joys of being an expat.
Still, as anyone who can remember being a newbie expat can tell you, it’s often helpful to have an old-timer around when you first arrive, whom you can rely on to explain the key words and phrases that you’ll need to know.
For those who aren’t lucky enough to have such a tutor – or who are merely interested in learning more about what we like to call the “language of expat” – Investment Europe has compiled the following “Expat Lexicon”.
Investment Europe’s Expat Lexicon
Ah beng – A gangster stereotype (ah lian would be the female equivalent)
Ang mo – This is a Singaporean term for a western person or expat, which has its origins in the Hokkien dialect of China. It is also used as an adjective to refer to Western culture, and is found in other countries in the region, including Malaysia and Indonesia
It is said that in Singapore at least, common usage has effectively neutralised its original negative connotations. It literally means “red-haired”; a related term is ang mo kui, “red-haired devil”
Ang mo Kio – The name of a largely residential and market area in north-central Singapore
Hong bao – A traditional red envelope filled with money and given as a gift during the Chinese New Year period, not only in Singapore but in other places where Chinese culture is present. In some contexts it can be seen as a soft bribe
Lah – This word is added to the end of a sentence to add emphasis – for example, “hurry lah!” means “come on, let’s go!” The Singaporean use of lah is said to come from the Hokkien dialect, which is spoken by certain Chinese from Fujian province and other parts of Asia
Meh – Similar to lah, meh is said to be a Hokkien word that is used to express surprise
Singlish – The name given to the patois spoken by many Singaporeans. In addition to incorporating words from Chinese and other languages that are part of Singaporean culture, it has some of its own idiosyncrasies, such as a fondness for acronyms