America Goes Abroad. American Emigration to the European Metropolis in the 1920s and Today

Bachelor Thesis 2015 31 Pages

American Studies - Literature



I a) Intention of Research
I b) Clarification of the Terms Expatriate, Sojourner, and Immigrant
I c) American Emigration to Europe

II a) Motives for Departure
II b) Immigrant Communities
II c) Integration into the French Community
II c i) Learning the French Language

III a) Methodology
III b) Presentation of the Interviewees
III c) Motives for Departure
III d) Immigrant Communities
III d i) Work-Related International Communities

IV a) Stay in Europe or Return to the US
IV b) Perspectives of the 1920s Expatriates
IV c) Today’s Berlin Expatriates’ Projects


VI a) Interviewees’ contact details
VI b) Interview Notes
VI c) German Summary



The United States of America – once a country conquered, and then a nation founded, by various European nationalities – is the starting point of this paper. The century-long waves of immigration into this country give the historical justification of the US as an immigrant nation (Weisberger). From this point of view, an increase in emigration over the last decades has commenced a counterstream of migration back to Europe. In this process of migration a tendency of being attracted to European urban centers characterizes American emigration (Cowley 210).

I a) Intention of Research

In this paper, I will compare the motives as well as differences and similarities of American expatriation to European cities in two different time periods. For this, the research will look at the emigrant generation of the 1920s post-war Parisian literary community and, in a second step, this community of writers will be compared to today’s American expatriates in Berlin. The research aims at illustrating how those two periods have influenced the emigrants’ decision of leaving the country and what social circumstances of the respective time period in European centers have shaped the generation’s lifestyle.

The first part of the research is based on authentic sources such as Malcom Cowley’s autobiographical chronicles of the Lost Generation's[1] era Exiles Return and Ernest Hemingway’s memoirs A Moveable Feast. With this, the reasons for which Americans left the US and how certain components defined their expatriate lives in the literary community will be illustrated. As these two authors were part of and, thus, experienced the Lost Generation first hand, those gained insights of the literary research stand exemplarily for the whole movement of American expatriation to the French metropolis. Then, moving to the year 2014, the American expatriates of the research have changed not only the generation but also the city. As a point of departure I will draw upon insights that I gained through interviewing three Americans on their expatriation to Berlin. Along with the different reasons for expatriation today, a later chapter will look at the idea of integration and to what extent today’s emigrants are willing to alter and adapt their identity as opposed to the earlier ones. With this, the critical framework will be established in order to prove that, although taking part in two different eras and cities, these two communities can be yet compared to each other. Lastly, it will be explained what came and might come after the period of expatriation. The guiding questions in this part of the paper are whether the American immigrants want to return to the USA or rather stay in the newly chosen metropolis and what projects they aim to fulfill subsequently.

I b) Clarification of the Terms Expatriate, Sojourner, and Immigrant

Before talking about American emigration, certain significant terms for this paper have to be clarified. It is easy to confuse the notions of expatriates, sojourners and immigrants and therefore this chapter gives a short overview of these theoretical concepts. Generally speaking, both the group of expatriates and sojourners can be counted as immigrants, “person[s] who comes (sic.) to a country to live there”.[2] As Wittenkamp also puts it, immigrants “don’t plan to return at a time known at arrival” (“A Nation of Immigrants”).

Sojourner is a more specializing term because this concept encircles a certain group of immigrants: international students, guest workers, asylum seekers and also expatriates (Anderson 425). As opposed to expatriates, who migrate mainly due to business assignments, the term sojourner means someone who temporarily stays or sojourns in a country as a traveler or guest.[3] Although a sojourner might extend his or her time residing in the host country sometimes even up to the status of a permanent resident (Mizukami 33), this person "is defined as one who has the intention and plan of returning to [his or her] home country" (Cohen qtd. in Mizukami 34).

Expatriates can be classified as a sub-group of sojourners (Cohen qtd. in Mizukami 34) because they leave their native country also intentionally[4] and plan on returning but, in contrast to sojourners, the expatriates’ stay abroad is mainly due to work assignments. These job-related tasks pre-determine a limited amount of time spent abroad before the departure (Holtbrügge 70).[5] To specify expatriates even further, the period of adjustment to the new culture plays an important role, too. This is because expatriates do not necessarily choose the host country as their residence and neither does the business-related goal include an active approach of the foreign culture (Anderson 425). Alternatively, Walter Crasshole, from a government's perspective, names the expatriate a desirable Ausländer [6] because they enrich the host country’s economy and pay taxes.

As illustrated, sojourners are a more general group of immigrants than expatriates are. For this paper, the focus lies on expatriates only. This is because the Americans being looked at in further detail share all the same characteristics of expatriates as they have immigrated to Europe to take another professional step “on the career ladder” (Ward/Boechner/Fruhm 2001 qtd. in Holtbrügge 81).

I c) American Emigration to Europe

US Expatriation Act: The right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people, indispensable to the enjoyment of the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (Rice 51)

Before the US Expatriation Act of July 1868 was released, the USA primarily became famous as an immigration country thanks to an enormous attraction of expatriates and other emigrants. This country is an interesting case for migration as it was founded by settlers of miscellaneous ethnicities and is therefore often called “a nation of immigrants” (Weisberger). Many generations after the settlement of these expatriates, who came mostly from Europe during the first waves (Weisberger), the US Expatriation Act was procured by the phenomenon of a returning diaspora to all over the world (Tsuda 25). Return migration, as this phenomenon is called, displays another form of “international labor migration” (26) as the return to the “ancestral homeland” (Christou 187) is often a result of economic incentives connected to a feeling of ancestral belonging (Tsuda 35). In this context it is necessary to mention that the two generations the paper deals with are both considered emigrants with ancestral immigrant roots.

The first big wave of immigration to Europe happened in the 1920s and evoked a chain migration where “returnees motivate further emigration“ (Gmelch 153). America suffered from the aftermaths of World War I and a young generation with enthusiastic spirits was eager to “break the puritan shackles, drink, live freely and be wholly creative” and therefore went to encounter the “wisdom of old[er] cultures” than theirs (Cowley 61-62; 240). Accordingly, American immigrants in the 20s expected the European urban centers to be intellectually more advanced. Positively to this adds that the post war economic depression of the time allowed the emigrants to live a wealthier life in Europe than in their home country (xii; 81).

Nowadays, American emigrants probably do not leave because of the exchange rate as the US Dollar has been rather weak over the last decade and with the banking crisis in 2008 at its climax (Kaufmann/Bude). With increased global mobility today, traveling and, consequently, changing the country of residence becomes rather an adventure with benefits for the emigrants. That is, working and realizing projects abroad in less conservative countries could become a desirable goal for many Americans today.


In the first part of the research the focus is put on the American immigrants coming to Europe in the 1920s. More specifically, this will aim at the Lost Generation. Factors that made the participants of this generation leave the United States and the reasons why the immigrants decided for Paris as their destination will be discussed. Additionally, this chapter mentions how the literates were living in the European centers by showing, exemplarily represented by Paris, how the expatriates assimilated to the new culture. This will be illustrated by looking at the artists’ daily life in Paris that they often spent in company with other American writers. A new standard of living was shaped by exchanging ideas with their fellow writers in literary circles, working in cafés, and many times excessive partying.

II a) Motives for Departure

A whole generation of American writers – and how many others, architects, painters, bond salesmen, professors and their wives, all the more studious and impressionable section of the middle-class youth – had been uprooted, schooled away, almost wrenched away, I said, from their attachment to any locality or local tradition. (Cowley 206)

It would be impossible to name the one and only reason for why immigration to Europe took place in the extent it did in the 1920s. However, it is possible to describe what could have been such factors that triggered the decision of Americans to leave the country. In the following, some of the main incentives for an emigration away from the US will be discussed.

According to Cowley, American emigrants were mainly driven by push-factors making them escape.[7] The author states the following about the US: “Life in this country is joyless and colorless, universally standardized, tawdry, uncreative, given over the worship of wealth and machinery.” (xii). This sentence points out several aspects of the American escape to Europe. Firstly, it summarizes the expatriates’ belief in American hypocrisy and repression (xiii). Secondly, the rising capitalist society following the wave of industrialization is criticized. Hard labor, that came along with the capitalist ethic, fostered conformity of the society which was disliked by especially young artists (Kramesberger 98; Cowley 62). Lastly, Cowley implies with the above given citation that life in America makes the inhabitants feel like “strangers” (214) in their own country.[8]

For the young and aspiring Americans there seemed to be more to life than spending their future in a hypocritical, capitalist, and standardized country where they no longer feel at home. Consequently, the expatriates decided consciously for a longer move to Europe. Before the Great War this continent had been mostly unexplored by the majority of Americans and therefore people were encouraged to imagine Europe based on what they had heard so far. One of the dreams was that in the 19th century Europeans, and especially the French, generated notably successful literature (e.g. Proust, Maupassant, Apollinaire) and art (e.g. Monet, Renoir). Creativity in France was seen as purposeful (Cowley 287) as opposed to the understanding of art in the US. Accordingly, a growing up generation that saw no future for individual talent or intellectuals in an American standardized capitalist society (75) was all the more filled with romanticized notions regarding far away adventures.[9] Furthermore, becoming successful in the metropolis as well as being heard by like-minded intellectuals (16; 240) was surely an idealized fantasy of many Americans during that time.[10] Hence, these pull factors can be described as an endeavor for self-fulfillment.

Adding another layer to this, after the war many Americans had now “appetite for pleasure” (Cowley 49) and desired a modern life where one benefits from the delights of the moment (114). Encouraged by the wealth gap between the US and Europe (xii)[11] young artists sought an “individual paradise” thanks to the favorable exchange rate (286). Additionally, the possibility to consume alcohol without constraints definitely supported the aspect of enjoying and living the moment in a foreign country. Thus, the idea of carpe diem (cp. A Moveable Feast 95), extravagant parties, and simultaneous literary success created a glamorous image when yet living in the US.

Many times the temporary exile to Paris was neither due to an escape, nor was it promoted by an attraction to shimmering fantasies. Work assignments abroad reinforced many American writers, who worked for big newspapers in the US, to leave their home country. This was the case for Hemingway when he came to Europe as a freelancer in 1924 (Kramesberger 9).[12] American newspapers became more and more interested in Europe and wanted articles from overseas. As a result, many writers saw this as a springboard to absorb the creative environment of Europe by working as journalists at first and then publish own works autonomously from big newspapers (Cowley 79).[13] Last but not least, a great number of Americans fantasized about their profession as an artist in France working “absolutely independent of all localities, nations or classes” (206).

As manifold as the individual motivations of migrating from the US to Europe were, equally simple was the result: a community of young American writers and artists living in Paris was established. All of them shared the heritage and lived through the same historical episodes; they had similar concepts of life and they experienced expatriation all at the same time (Cowley 240).

II b) Immigrant Communities

As illustrated above, the members of the Lost Generation resembled each other in their professions, believes, and aims. Hence, it is no surprise that this like-minded group finds a way to share their experiences made in France with each other. In the following, the paper talks about the community of American writers[14] rather than the literary movement itself, as this allows a comparison to the modern expatriates in the subsequent chapter.

World War I highly impacted the writers[15] in so far that values such as national pride have become fascinating. However, the experiences made by many during the war[16] were the reason why the values changed from adhering to a conformist society to valuing one’s own individuality and creativity more freely. As a consequence, most of the expatriates preferred the company of the other American authors who counted to the said generation. But what did life look like in those all-American communities?

First of all, being famous became the ultimate goal (Kramesberger 119). To be more precise, creating good work, being able to sell it for a good price and, thus, “get[ting] their names in papers” (Cowley 170) was the initial aim for the stay abroad. The dream of improving and excelling in their creative writing career became now an actual and realistic project when the writers were sent to Europe as oversea correspondents. Also for the family members who accompanied the travelers, going on a longer trip to Europe seemed to be a favorable plan for a change of scenery. With the fame also came the invitations for dinner parties and new acquaintances (122). This allowed, at last, for being introduced to, and a mingling with, the American society residing in Paris. Building up this social network with fellow citizens seemed to be especially important as the expatriates’ own families usually lived far away. Consequently, newly made friends and lovers who shared the same history of migration became a family substitute when the expatriates were exposed to foreign structures and surroundings abroad.

These social encounters often ended in those well-known excessive parties and the Lost Generation’s characteristic abuse of alcohol. In a novel being representative for the Lost Generation, Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, the main characters Jake and Brett demonstrate the normality of being drunk:

“You don’t remember anything about a date with me at the Crillon?”

“No. Did we have one? I must have been blind.”

“You were quite drunk, my dear,” said the count. “Wasn’t I, though? And the count’s been a brick,

absolutely.” (Hemingway Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises 39)

Writers of the Lost Generation, such as Hemingway or Fitzgerald, often had obvious alcohol problems (Kramesberger 156).[17] Numerous parties and the convivial pleasure of working around a drink promoted the abuse as much as did the rebellion against American laws (98).

Despite the image of the American drunkards, the expatriates were also known for their intellectual get-togethers. One of the main reasons for the sojourn in France had been their work assignments. They had to work on the given journalistic tasks but, at the same time, wanted to advance an own chosen literary project, e.g. Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (Kramesberger 77). Consequently, the American writers grouped together to discuss ideas in intellectual salons, such as the famous one around Gertrude Stein in the Rue de Fleurus (56). The intellectual exchange not only laid the cornerstone for many popular works but can also be seen as a further pillar of the American immigrant community in Paris. These were places full of new ideas, where authors influenced each other (Cowley 153).

To sum up, the youth of the Lost Generation was initially escaping a conservative and defective society and, at the same time, scattering out in the world in search of adventure. They have found people who they shared not only the same language with but also similar values. Consequently, those expatriates have accepted their fellow citizens as a new temporary family. In this now more precisely defined immigrant community they experienced a new freedom that was represented by both exorbitant carouses and shaped by newly given liberty of literary creativity.

II c) Integration into the French Community

It is interesting to discuss to what extent the expatriates made an effort to become integrated into the Paris of the 1920s as this will be an aspect that will serve for comparison to later expatriates (ch. IIId). As illustrated earlier, the post-war-triggered sentiments in the United States were based on a newly developed patriotism. Due to miscellaneous military deployments that most Americans had experienced, an example illustrating their national pride is given by the trust in American medical services. To be more precise, the American hospital in Neuilly, close to Paris, became the institution that the Americans preferred to the French hospitals.[18] On the one hand, staying with what was known gave them, from a psychological point of view, personal and moral stability but it implies, on the other hand, a fear of the foreign and unknown.


[1] The term Lost Generation is used to label a literary movement of the short time span between the two world wars. Its participants were American artists and writers who shared same attitudes (Cowley 4). They settled in European capitals whereof Paris and its neighborhood Montparnasse were highly popular (84).

[2] "immigrant."Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2011. Web. 25 Dec 2014.

[3] "sojourner."Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2011. Web. 25 Dec 2014.

[4] "expatriate."Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2011. Web. 25 Dec 2014.

[5] According to Holtbrügge, this period is shorter than refugees would stay but longer than tourists intend to sojourn (70). Anderson narrows the period abroad down to between six months and five years (425).

[6] Walter Crasshole is one of the American expatriates today living and working in Berlin. His responses during an interview will serve as data for later discussion. Desirable Ausländer translates into desirable foreigner (my translation).

[7] Cowley explains the migration movement by means of an analogy to one of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales: The expatriates are the children that run away from their cruel stepmother who signifies their home country (289).

[8] Feeling “strange” is, among others, due to “the loss of promise after World War I” (Wagner-Martin 5). Many disillusioned Americans left the country after the war in search for a home, as they lacked the feeling of belonging during the post-war period.

[9] When the expatriate generation imagined a life abroad in Europe they were still rather immature. Cowley puts it as “pimpled and awkward” and says they “yearned for someone to accept [their] caresses, [to] be conquered by [their] cleverness” (16).

[10] This supports the concept of everybody being able to work his or her way up from rags to riches but, interestingly, this time this does not apply to a quality of the United States but to European cities. Consequently, we can find a transfer of a cultural theory concept from one culture to another one.

[11] According to Hemingway, two people could live a wealthy life off of five US Dollars per day (A Moveable Feast 92). Moreover, Cowley could afford to study at a French university. This means that a comfortable living and even travels were possible (Cowley 80).

[12] In that time Hemingway worked for the Toronto Star (Kramesberger 2).

[13] The newspapers’ image quickly exacerbated, however. The authors who worked on Civilization in the United States: An Inquiry by Thirty Americans summed up that the profession as a journalist was not desirable in a long term because writers could not gain dignity with it. They called journalism “dishonest and imbecile” (qtd. in Cowley 76). Hemingway also stated that newspapers become dangerous at some point and you have to quit the business as long as you can still do so (Kramesberger 102).

[14] “Their achievement as artists is now effectively inseparable in our minds from the legendry (sic.) of their lives, and their works are so commonly seen as source books of gossip and invitation to nostalgia that no balanced view of their literary merits can be maintained for long” (Aldridge 110).

[15] In order to deal with the war, authors often reflected on it by writing about it. Hemingway even published the novels A Farewell to Arms or Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises which stand out more or less as explicit war novels (Kramesberger 184).

[16] There were, in fact, a good number of American young middle class boys who served in the war. They preferably worked as ambulance driver as “[i]t confronted [them] with hardships, but not more of them than it was exhilarating for young men to endure, and with danger, but not too much of it” (Cowley 41). Therefore, the gained self-esteem of not being an embusqué but rather a succeeding hero enabled them to observe the war terrain as a playground to develop individual values (41).

[17] Adding to the list of gifted writers suffering from alcoholism, Hart Crane needed to be drunk in order to produce creative literature. His “painless brilliance” was due to the “repeated process” of consuming alcohol (Cowley 231).

[18] When Scott Fitzgerald was sick one time, Hemingway portrays his unwillingness to be treated by anyone else than American doctors due to lacking faith in French qualifications (A Moveable Feast 126). Fitzgerald’s attitude might have represented that of many other American expatriates: Gertrude Stein also preferred this hospital in Neuilly and even died there (Kramesberger 208).


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
664 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Potsdam
Hemingway Ernest Expatriates Europe urban metropolis Americans 1920's Golden Twenties American Literature




Title: America Goes Abroad. American Emigration to the European Metropolis in the 1920s and Today