Friday, August 28, 2009

All Quiet on the Whelville Front


Mariachi setting in Ljubljana

Sorry I haven't been posting much. There really just hasn't been a heck of a lot going on. Or maybe I haven't been thinking much about the things that have been going on.

I've been working a little and putting more time into driving since I STILL am shaky on the whole enterprise. These days, I am actually eager for my lessons (The Captain has now taken the helm as my instructor), and I can see my goals coming slowly but surely into view. This time, I am gonna stick with it until I get there.

I recently had a new (but good) friend come to visit me from Berlin and it got me thinking about a lot of things. We had a lot of good and interesting (and sometimes hilarious!) chats and we really just connected. One day, we were in a cafe and a couple in hilariously awful outfits strolled up, and she and I just looked at each other and started cracking up laughing. It was wonderful. I don't have that connection with any of my friends here. That's the good stuff, the stuff that I hope will come in time....

Since my friend and I are both Americans who are living the expat life at the moment, talks and thoughts did tend to focus on that. While some expats are here in Europe with a definite expiration date, a clear feeling that they want to live in America, yearly trips back home. I don't have that feeling, I don't have that urge. I even mentioned to my friend that I think that when I have kids, I'd like to send them to Ghana on a regular basis so they can learn the language and be familiar with family and culture. She asked how it would work being "tricultural" and I told her that I think I'd just cut the American part out a bit; meaning I probably just wouldn't be taking them or sending them to America much. I was trying to think about why. Am I denying some part of myself? Am I harboring some sort of chauvinistic animosity towards the US? I don't think it is any of that. I think I am fairhanded toward the country, it has definite plusses and minuses as any other. It's definitely a neat place, it's the country with places that I know best. It's the country where , when I speak, I am best understood. I will always be plenty American and pass that along to any kids I might have, since that is what I am and the only thing I can honestly bring to the table culture-wise. I guess there is some idea that I could equip any children I might have with things that would help them combat that Non-Belonging feeling that I've grappled with so much. Maybe Non-Belonging is sometimes just part of the human condition?

I haven't formed any one real coherent thought to express what I am thinking, what might be the reason, but here are a couple thoughts:

One idea surrounds around the fact that, as a black person, I kinda feel more or less uncomfortable everywhere.

I miss my family and friends, but they are not necessarily centrally-located in one American city or anything.

I do miss shopping and cultural events and bookstores and certain foods, but I am unsure whether that all is worth building a life around.

There is also the fact, that I don't think I was very successful at America. I am not sitting on top of the world here in Slovenia, but I think I am doing considerably better.

So, I don't know what the truth of the matter is -- probably a little from column A and a little from column B. Do you have similar or divergent thoughts about your expat experience? Hey Mom!! You are an expat, any thoughts? Do share!

14 comments:

commonpeople said...

I can relate to your feelings. No matter how long I live in London, I'll never feel British (despite my father being from England). But I also feel displaced in Brasil because I now have an accent when I speak in Portuguese, plus I'm way too white to pass off as brasilian. So I'm sort of stuck in this in-between feeling, this sense of not fully belonging anywhere. It's freeing in some senses because I know i can easily pick up and move if I must (more so than most people) but on the downside I don't have that feeling of root.

alcessa said...

I can relate to what you describe, too (mine is also a special story). I don't feel really rooted anywhere either and I prefer it like this. On the other hand, I do think my brand new German citizenship is a significant statement about "where my heart belongs" to the greatest degree. But this doesn't "weigh me down" or "root me to a spot". :-)

Tina. said...

Yup, I can totally relate too. Except in my case it's the opposite situation of yours--I feel more at home here, in the U.S., than I do in Slovenia. I miss my family and friends and food and the sea and other things, but I also have this whole community of people here. The last time I visited Slovenia I felt completely misplaced, and arriving back to Texas felt like coming home.

Camille Acey said...

@tina - well i can't say i feel any MORE at home here in Slovenia than I do in America. in fact, i feel wildly out of place here every single day. i certainly don't have the same sort of community here that I had in America by a long shot, but I do have a partner (who seems pretty set here, though he always says he'd be open to leaving) and a house that is very homey (as opposed to the sort of run-down apartment I lived in in NYC) and a GARDEN. so it's livable and nice enough.

the point i am trying to make is not that Slovenia is so great and America is not. it's just that i am pretty set here and for some reason there is no strong pull to go back to america. you studied in america and work at something you like there and are married there so you have things that make your american life complete. if i'd had all that i might never have left.

Anthrophile said...

The thing about the U.S. is that the culture is so pervasive, what with media and entertainment and whatnot, you'll probably spend more time "correcting misapprehensions" than having to "introduce" much to you your kids, I think.

Given the opportunity, I could skedaddle, I think. I could definitely live in parts of the U.K. and be mentally comfortable. I think I'd miss the reality of New York more than the idea of 'America.' I'd have to visit. Okay, now I've got myself started planning shenanigans...

Camille Acey said...

@anthro - The reality of my life in New York is what makes me loath to go back there. The idea of the city is great, but waiting for missing trains and busses at ungodly hours of the night as rats nip past my feet so I can get up in the morning and rush to some nightmarish temp-job is not something I am falling over myself to go back to. It was fun for my early twenties, but I gotta move forward. I know it's possible to do such "moving forward" in NYC, but it ain't cheap and can be terribly tough.

Vetta said...

I think I can relate to some of what you talk about, but I don't think I equate it with being an expat. I travel quite a bit but I haven't lived away from the US for any substantial period of time. I feel like it might be part of the human condition to feel displaced sometimes. We naturally gravitate towards assuming it's a race, gender or other identity issue because those feel really concrete. But I think that sometimes, a place just doesn't suit part of our spirit (if I can use that language) or sensibility. Haven't really made up my mind fully about what it all means yet.

m said...

I feel a lot of what Vetta is saying. Since I was a little kid I was prepping my mother for when I would leave the states, because I never felt at home here. I did eventually move abroad, but not to a place that suited me in the long term. We're now in the states, but are planning to move back to Europe. The process of choosing where we want to go is surprisingly very fluid, and I accept that. I have a better idea of what basic requirements I have re: where I live, but there is a lot left open to surprise and mystery beyond that. I also accept that we may move again and learn yet another language and culture, and you know - i enjoy that and so does he! phew. It took me a long time to realize that this was a lifestyle that could honestly suit me. (Anyone read Songlines by Bruce Chatwick - towards the end he has a lot of interesting found quotes and snippets about nomadic culture that really resonates).

On another note, re: travelling as a black woman- I did have a friend from Jamaica /US while i was in Europe the first time around and she was very adamant about staying in the Czech Republic despite not fitting in and refusing to learn the language. she once said to me that at least in CZ it was understandable that she didn't fit in and she could wrap her head around it, whereas in the states and Jamaica she had some very upsetting experiences that really scarred her in places that were "supposed" to be her home. Was a bit of a self-exile two times over.

Camille Acey said...

@m - good luck with the moving. thanks for relating the story about the Jamaican woman, i think i can definitely relate on some levels -- though I, of course, am learning the language and am receptive (in some ways) to the culture.

Carlitos said...

Hello Camille! Good post, I can really relate to some things you mentioned.

One of them, as to whether "shopping and cultural events and bookstores and certain foods" are worth building your life around, I can honestly say they're not.

A few months after arriving in Slovenia (must have been September 2005) I was wrestling with it all: the different food, no books in my language, the lack of common codes with co-workers, missing speaking in my own language, the cold weather, the new customs, and -of course- the Slovene language, which I was studying at the moment.

Particularly it was very hard for me to be so quiet so often, since back 'home' in Argentina I was always in the centre of attention, either with my friends, band mates or co-workers -- suddenly, in Slovenia all of that was gone, poof! I just had my wife and her family for support. And it was a *lot* of great support, and thankful I am for it!

After a while of enduring quite hard times, I noticed it was actually something I needed, which I'd otherwise never have experienced: a sort of 'time out' to listen more and talk less, to feel more and act less, to look inside myself, to meditate. I can say I came out from the other side much happier and stronger than before, and with a brand new sense of belonging in Slovenia. An then, right about that time, I met a person who'd be one of my best friends ever (here, there or anywhere). And she still is, along with others, and we're now a little group of friends that share things and activities together that are central for all of us. I can honestly say that I never had such a great group of friends before.

So, my needs did change over time, and Slovenia gave me the chance to realise it... to grow up, if you may, into an unexpected but welcome direction (BTW, I'm 31 years old). Sure, I sometimes long for the old life: the bookshops, high school friends, the night life, the movies, the hilarious conversations, the food. But that's easily taken care of by gong yearly to Buenos Aires, truth be told!

And yeah, having a garden where you see things grow and bear fruit is FANTASTIC! Try that on a Buenos Aires apartment, ha!

And BTW, those Mariachis were EVERYWHERE during a couple of weeks in Ljubljana. I was showing the town to some Spanish and Portuguese tourists then, and it was funny telling them about the Austrian heritage of Ljubljana... all to the soundtrack of live Mariachi music. Priceless! :-)

Have a great time!

Camille Acey said...

@carlitos - thanks for your insight. slovenia definitely has given me a chance to be meditative and work on myself, and i appreciate that i've been facing some things i need to focus. i even have a small caring group of new friends who are kind and wise and sensitive in these areas. but i feel that in all things -- BALANCE, and while i am blessed to have those quiet moments and nice new friends for deep conversations, my feet are itchy to have more FUN and get into more of the things i actually like and meet more people who actually share my interests.

i can't afford to go back to america every year, but i am glad i discovered berlin. it definitely has many things i miss about new york, but on the other hand it is very transient and many of the people i met there are already gone, whereas in new york nearly all my old friends are still there. :(

patience, patience, i guess... but i do sure hope that patience pays off.

Carlitos said...

Patience always helps in the end, at least in my experience. The end's the easy part, though. Getting there? Another story ;-)

About your driving lessons, BTW, reminded me that I recently got my Slovenian (which means EU-wide) driving license! Yay! No small feat, considering I drove for the first time in the land of potica. Being from Buenos Aires, you have to be very crazy or rich (or both) to drive a car.

The whole thing made us almost a thousand EUR poorer, BTW. Oh well, could be worse I guess :-)

Cynthia said...

I understand completely. I'm not sure I have anything of true merit to say.

I'm currently in Atlanta have been here for 5 years, own a house and everything but it's not what I want. It's not what I ever wanted. I surrounded by people who look like me but I still don't fit in.

I have yet to get it and I'm not sure I will but since going to Rio (for work) last year and traveling around some more this year, I understand that I may never "fit" in and that's okay but you should find a place where you can find your balance.

I know Atlanta is not the place for me in that respect.

Bright Shauntelly Day said...

As an America, I don't even feel like I fit in here. So many things taken for granted and emphases put on trivial things here. I love this Country as one would always have a certain reverence for there birth place but I have never really felt like I belonged here. That being said life’s circumstances have kept me here so I am making the best of it.