Monday, April 26, 2010

On life as an ex-patriot...

There is another struggle that comes with being a long-term ex-pat. And I do stress long-term. When I first arrived, for years in fact, there was the excitement and lure of learning and discovering a new language; the thrill of feeling it roll over my tongue like cool water on naked skin. You say things in different ways, and learn to see them differently as a result.

There are the odd phrases specific to each language and region that make it unique, even absurd, to the point of giddiness. A friend of mine says in her local French, "I have so much housework to do today. I am just swimming in the yogurt!"

Naturally, these are the things that draw me to a language, and make me love it.

There are also the cultural putdowns, a local sense of humor, that you can only grasp if you truly know the language and history. The day I began to grasp these was the day I felt I truly belonged. My friends from the New Country come over and ask me to translate, and sometimes I honestly can't. After all, they didn't go through this particular school of hard knocks!

But aside from that there is the feeling that you never will fit in. That you understand, but cannot hear. That you are doomed to a life of deafness.

A friend sat at my table last week for lunch, a businessman. He said something that was a consolation to me. We were talking about this culture, a specific sub-culture where I live. He said, "You do truly understand us, Allison, but there are things, thoughts, you will never understand because you are not us. This mentality is not yours. So while you understand it, you cannot have it - it will not come to you naturally."

You understand, but cannot hear.

Being an ex-patriot will give you that feeling, eventually. The clanging din of sound, even beautiful sound, surrounds you, but the day ultimately comes when that's all it is - sound.

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