Many of my fellow Charioteers are or have been expatriates. Some have settled permanently, some have repatriated, some have moved to third countries. However distinct a person’s experience, there are some experiences which many share.
As you are all aware, I am a certified, card-carrying Hun. In between gnawing on roasted joints of meat and downing copious quantities of sauerkraut, I have this pathological urge to invade neighbouring countries. Naturally, this entails wearing a Pickelhaube and goose-stepping. These days, however, are rapidly coming to a close. I am no longer as young as I was ten years ago and I have grown tired of all this marching. At the end of next month I will fly to the United Kingdom and make preparations to settle down permanently come November. Thanks to Corbyn’s insistence that the Human Rights Act be preserved, I will secure my position by purchasing a potted plant. Right to family life or some-such.
Before then, I will have to fly to California to make final arrangements. The blessed female-type parent has managed to make things even more stressful than they needed to be. Despite Cog and CO’s sage advice, which she completely disregarded along with my concerns, she’s committed herself to moving to bloody Texas. Not only has she committed herself to moving to Texas, but she’s moved it up to this year. Her new paramour has received his inheritance and will fly to San Antonio Saturday to sign the paperwork for a house in the Texas Hill County. She somehow anticipates that I, with no real notice, ought to be able to arrange the transport of at least 5 large boxes of goods to Dorset before the ink even dries on my paperwork. One is sorely tempted to oblige her to drag the bulk of it to Texas and have her deal with the logistics at one’s leisure.
What this situation has revealed is one of those quirks of life. Due to our age difference, most had anticipated that my mother would remain fundamentally European but develop a superficial Americana in order to get on. Naturally, the expectation was that I would become fully Americanised with few, if any, traces of my European origins. Things turned out rather differently. My mother has become fully Americanised with only a few traces of a German accent. I remained fundamentally European. Since repatriating, I’ve found the United States and Americans increasingly unfathomable. It’s as if I was never there at all. With her precipitous vacation of California, I’ll no longer have a foothold in the US. Any remaining connexions will be residual; the odd acquaintance, the old friend, the memory half-forgotten. Admittedly, my mother is also quickly becoming a stranger.
I, of course, wish her well. She was one of those immigrants who made good and adjusted just as well. I’d hardly consider her an “expatriate”. At heart, she’s become American. It suits her well. It’s her life and she enjoys it. In the same way, I’ve become readjusted to Europe and have grown perfectly at home again. I resented having to be in the US — I never adjusted to it, nor did I ever really want to. Thus, everything is for the best.
19 thoughts on “Pulling Apart”
Do I detect you have already naturalised yourself to Britain, keeping calm and carrying on? Excellent! Dorset can be idyllic for determined incomers.
Janus: I’ve come to accept that somewhat palatable muddles in which everyone grimly accepts that they won’t get what they want, or anything close to it, is in fact a desirable state of affairs. Through this disappointment comes solace and camaraderie. Well, something like that. I quite like that Dorset has two traits that I happen to find highly desirable. The first is that precious little “interesting” happens. Ennui is a virtue much-maligned! The second is that there is little unemployment. I earn enough online that, even if my “day job” leaves somewhat to be desired financially I will get by quite comfortably.
CT, yes, the two vital ingredients: untroubled comfort and…..untroubled comfort! Call it ennui, call it what they like – it’s a life to savour.
The problem with excitement is that it’s exhausting. It’s fun for a few years in one’s youth, but excitement transforms to tedium. What does one really need in life? A roof over one’s head, good music, good literature, good tea, good coffee and the ability to cook well. All else is superfluous.
Christopher, like you, I have lived in several countries.Though I was born in the UK, I grew up in what was then Rhodesia. Upon leaving school, I moved back and forth between this country, the UK, South Africa, the US, and even Australia. I was in the US for nigh on 5 years and even got my Green Card. As much as I enjoyed living in many of those places, there was only ever one place I could call home. That is Zimbabwe.
The problem stems from the fact that I could not identify with the people in other countries and they certainly could not identify with me. I could get along with them and have many friends in each of them, but it was clear that nobody who had never lived in Africa could begin to relate to the upbringing I had experienced. Even South Africans had did not really understand the whole Rhodesia/Zimbabwe thing. While Brits and Australians were vaguely aware of the country and its colonial ills, most Americans had never heard of the place. Thus they could never begin to grasp the nature of my character which was so influenced by that history. I would hear tales of my American contemporaries and was easily able to see the similarities of their lives and experiences and could understand how that would engender a feeling of common identity, despite the fact that many had grown up in different parts of the United Sates. Their school systems were the same, their sports and vacations and qualifications and politics and culture etc were all the same, or very similar. I, on the other hand, had almost no experiences with which they could identify. I knew about American hisotry, in many cases much more than most of them, but they knew nothing about Africa, let alone Zimbabwe or Rhodesia.
For me to have chosen to settle in the US would have meant becoming an American. That would mean surrendering my identity as an African. I do not knock that system, it is why the US has been so successful in unifying a nation of immigrants. But I was not willing to do so, nor was I willing to go on being a foreigner. I was not prepared to wave flags and shout ‘USA! USA!’ but nor was I prepared to live among friends and colleagues and tell them that my country was better than theirs. It was the same in Australia.
Although ethnically British, through and through, my identity with that nation was linked to a past that no longer existed. My father had been born in 1914 and my mother in 1921. Their culture and value systems, which so heavily impacted my life, were not those of modern Britain. Thus when I went back, I was horrified to find a country that failed so miserably to meet my expectations, though I grant you those expectations had probably been raised beyond reason.
Wherever I found myself, as warm and welcoming as people may be, I felt that I was and always would be a stranger. People could not pinpoint me in any social context with which they were familiar. Thus I was an outsider who never truly belonged; a nice enough chap who did not quite get it.
Coming back to Zimbabwe, however, for all its many problems, I feel immediately comfortable. There is never any need to explain my identity to people whom I have never met. I do not have to endlessly expound who I am, why I am here and how I got to be here. I have returned to my tribe, albeit a much smaller tribe than it used to be.
So, my advice to you is that when you go to live in Dorset, if you want to make it your home, become one of the people. Forget your past and reinvent yourself. Become a west-country Englishman and do and think what west country Englishmen do and think.
I should add, ‘or else you will always be a stranger in a strange land, and that is quite stressful.’
Sipu: There is much that I appreciate about the US, despite my reputation for having a pronounced anti-Americanism. I never had the slightest desire to become an American. It was like walking in shoes that were too narrow. It was neither comfortable nor feasible in the long-term. Becoming part of any society means giving up, at least to a great degree, who you were in the past as you quite accurately said. I could never bring myself to pledge allegiance to a flag that wasn’t mine, much less wave it about bellowing “USA, USA”. I got on well with many Americans, many Americans resented me for having no desire to become just like them. For some time, as I later found out, there was a concerted effort to humiliate me in order to break my will. The thought was that, by shattering my pride, I could be moulded as they saw fit. The only thing that accomplished was nurturing hatred and resentment. Repatriation was the only realistic option as every hiccough, every ruffle brought out a show of spleen. It’s reflexive. You can’t draw sweet water from a poisoned well.
Necessity is a great ally. I have no other option but to make Britain home. I feel at home there, at ease. I understand the humour and am more than willing to make myself the butt of jokes. After all, becoming part of the great comedy of life is the best way to integrate. No matter where I’ve been, whether Dorset, Hong Kong or Australia I’ve always felt at home in an Anglican church. I’ve selected the church I wish to attend based on gut feeling and natural attachment. One must always follow one’s instincts.
PS: Thank you for sharing your account. I think it’s fascinating. Rhodesia was truly something special, maligned and misunderstood. I wish Zimbabwe all the best. For all its problems, there’s something about it and its literary scene shows that it still has incredible potential. May Mugabe and Carter rot in hell together.
I am in Blighty until next week. I am restless, disorientated and uncomfortable despite the many warm welcomes I have received and cannot wait to get home to find out if Julietta has harvested the carobs and whether José is reconciled with Maria (again). I had it that the full quote to which Sipu alludes is, “Better a stranger in a strange land than a stranger in your own” and I increasingly identify with that sentiment. The city of my birth has changed beyond recognition; landmarks from my formative years have disappeared and I can no longer navigate around it. The traffic is horrendous, all twenty mph limits, one-way systems, speed bumps, 24/7 video surveillance and speshull red lanes for cyclistists which are the only bits of tarmac invariably empty. And they drive on the left AND they go around roundabouts in a clockwise direction. Can you believe it?? Asking for directions is a nightmare, “Oh, you just turn right at the Pineapple, keep in the left lane round the gyratory, go over the flyover and take the turnoff for the Westpark terminus.” I stare blankly for not one of these way points existed when I lived here. It’s almost the exact reverse of what Christopher might encounter when lost in rural Dorset, “Oi, moi dear, you carry on down yonder and it’s just past where the old barn used to be.”
More importantly, people generally, and even family, have changed, (or perhaps it is me who has changed?). They seem to have different aspirations, agendas, values and lifestyles than before. I have less and less in common with them and am becoming more and more alienated as a result. I feel I cannot even talk about home without appearing boastful or a show-off, yet they all still live within ten miles of where they were born and none ever had the balls to strike out into the big, wider world apart from a two week package deal to the Costas once a year. Yes, I am the different one now, a stranger in my own land.
In a way it’s all quite sad.
Sad indeed, OZ. Like you I was the one who left but luckily for me my cousins left too – so I can return to at least a few of my own generation who ‘understand’. My children too have proved to be adventurous, so we ‘get’ each other most of the time. The country is certainly changed in some respects – not all for the worse – but I still feel at home there.
OZ: People change, places change. When we’re not there to change with them, the near-invariable result is that we drift apart. New people enter into social circles, old familiars drift away, leaving no more than the phantasmic afterglows of their presence. Sometimes, when we find ourselves at points of transition, how much things can change even when we’re in the midst of it is apparent. I spoke to the female-type parent yesterday. She mentioned that, of the old “crew”, she and two others are the only ones left. Even though there’s no ill-will or hostility, the centre of action, the core of the group has shifted to the point that they’re at the periphery, the tolerated eminences grises who will fade away more and more with time.For her, the writing on the wall is too clear to be ignored.She’s said much the same of Trier. She recognises many structures, but the people are different, the shops are no longer the same — even the ones she remembers, recognises, have been renovated and altered to the point that they’re almost alien. A few times we’ve had disagreements over the language as well. Her German has become dated and some allusions make no sense any more. I’ve laughed a few times when she’s used rhotic rs in what is very much a non-rhotic language!
It seems as if you’ve become a part of the tapestry of life in Portugal, as is meat and proper. Nota bene, I’ve made preparations to take supplementary driving lessons to learn how to drive on the “correct” side of the road!
Janus: Points of commonality are always vital. The less one has in common, the harder it becomes to remain engaged. Trying to spend time with my cousins in Hunland can be difficult. I’ve been so actively engaged with the United Kingdom and Australia for so long that I struggle to find things to discuss with them, to even understand them. Talking about the weather becomes hackneyed after a few goes.
CT, I drove on the correct side a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in14 years! No problems but I was very aware of roundabouts and left turns.
Janus: I am not a very good driver and try to avoid it whenever possible. For years I’ve only drive on the most familiar roads and no more than necessary. I could use some help behind the wheel.
CT, I am at your service. Clean licence. Never knowingly underpriced. Long term contract preferred. Own uniform and cap. Almost house-trained. No references worth a light.
Janus: Oh my. Talking about being almost house-trained, I’ve convinced the Dane to go to Japan with me on holiday next year. He’s nearly house-trained, but I’ll have to learn (perfectly acceptable in Scots!) him a few things before we go! I thought 14 months of preparation time might be enough! That said, he’s dragging me across Denmark to Jutland again — this time driving.
Your Viking Ven will understand. Teach and learn are one word in Danish too. It must be a primitive northern thing. Like lend and borrow – and maybe many other duos.
Speaking strictly of matters linguistic, it has been said that the more advanced a language is, the more simplified it becomes. Reconstructed ancient languages tend to show that they were far more complex in the past than they are now. Old Norse was far more difficult than the present Scandinavian languages, Classical Chinese had even more tones and a relatively complex grammar, Latin was more challenging than today’s Romance languages, etc. Which leads me to think that Huns with their insistence on holding onto an unwieldy grammar are just cavemen!
I suppose the original codifiers of languages sought perfection – which was eroded by constant use among ordinary folk.
Oh, there is never linguistic perfection. Such doesn’t exist and no one, no matter how well-educated, is capable of it. The elite, for their part, relegated the use of the vernacular to the rabble for so long that said rabble was responsible for the development of modern languages. It took some 800 years from the fall of the Western Roman empire for Dante to argue the merits of writing in the vernacular. Vernacular writing — even so far as using indigenous or indigenously-innovated writing systems — was considered something suitable only for women and affluent commoners — in Korea and Japan respectively until the 18th century. The Chinese didn’t fully embrace the vernacular until the early 20th century! By this time, what would become national languages had already become well-developed. In a quaint game of catch-up, the best the elite could hope to do was standardise a favoured dialect and sneer at all those who spoke and/or wrote otherwise.