They ask me where I’m from, and I tell them that I’m English. They look at me curiously, listening to the American accent with a hint of something foreign in its sounding, a distant memory of a corner of the world that doesn’t jump off the page of my life, but hides itself behind the dominant sound of a confused American who is neither Southern nor Northern, Eastern nor Western.
They ask me where my accent is, and I tell them I bury it well. I tell them it’s there, beneath the mask of my partial-American upbringing. I tell them that I can switch to it easily, if I want, but for the sake of understanding, I use the American one because it’s easier given the company I am around. And when I speak those words, I intentionally increase the English inflection on my letter A’s and my T’s. They hear the change, and begin to smile and say “Oh I hear it now,” believing that now that I’ve told them, they’re picking up on something that was always there, and they immediately believe that I am not from this country despite the way I sounded when we met.
They ask me to speak with my English accent, and I transition over without issue or hindrance. I flip the switch in my brain, and immediately I become something different. My tongue moves quicker, the words exiting my lips more mumbled. Letters become lettas, colors become colas, isn’t it becomes ennit. I grab a pen and paper and write them a note, spelling words as I always do, with the language of my original passport country, adding “u” in words like colour and favourite, switching “er” to “re” in words like centre and theatre, or bringing the validity of “-ise” back to reality in words like centralise and realise.
They ask me why I moved here, and I tell them my father’s job brought us here, that I went to university in San Antonio and then I took jobs in America and didn’t want to go back to England because of the taxes. I then tell them that I will leave one day, but I simply haven’t left yet. Yet is the operative word. They look at me curiously. Some are wondering why I would ever want to leave wherever I am, why I don’t love the area they love so much. Others are thinking about how much they, too, would like to up and go. But they don’t understand what moving entails. Many of them have never left the state, yet alone country. But they want to know. Or think they want to know.
They ask me if America and England were the only places. I respond no, and I string the list together of places I have lived. England, Hong Kong, Singapore, France, America. Then I throw in, almost as an afterthought, that there were other places I lived when I was young, but I don’t remember them so they don’t count. They say how cool that is, how amazing it must have been to see all those places, experience all those things. They say I must have felt so lucky. And I just respond that yes, now that I am old, I know that I was one of the luckiest people I know, that I wouldn’t trade the experiences of my youth for anything in the world; Now that I am old.
They ask me where my favourite place to live was. If at the moment of asking I am feeling isolated from the world, I will tell them Hong Kong because it’s the most exciting culture I’ve experienced. If when they ask, I am feeling sad that I hardly know my family, I will tell them England because it’s where everyone I’m related to lives. If I’m missing beautiful country, clean air, and bright skies, I tell them France. If I’m wishing I’d seen more, done more, been more places, I’ll tell them Singapore because I remember so little about it. I do not tell them why. They do not know the secrets behind my reasons. I just name the place, and fall silent. But in my head, I am thinking all of those things. But the place I never say, ever, is that it’s America.
They ask me first why I love that country, and I feed them some creative lie about food or lifestyle. But the truth is always the reason of the moment. The truth is how I’m feeling in that specific pocket of time, a secret I keep for me and me alone. And when the reality of where I’ve lived sets in, of all the places I’ve seen…
They ask me why my favourite place isn’t America. And I tell them because it’s a country of people who believe themselves to be a melting pot of cultures and a land of equal rights, but everyone seems to hate the person next to them who doesn’t believe exactly what they do, or wants to live their life slightly different to the lifestyle of their neighbor. I tell them that it’s not a melting pot, that it’s a culturally resistant country, one that believes that patriotism and Americanism (whatever that may be) is the only way to live, and that everyone else should conform or “go home,” wherever that is.
And they get mad, and ask me nothing. They then attack, respond, and retaliate. They defend or unite. They consider me an outsider and think that my opinions are invalid because I am not one of them. They brush me off, or become my friend, but no matter the outcome, I am always the “English guy,” when in truth I am no more English than I am Chinese or American or French. But to them, I am the foreigner, the man that doesn’t quite fit into the comfort of their Americanism.
To them I am different. To me, I am what I have always been; I am a Third Culture Kid, a TCK, a Global Nomad, and an Expatriate everywhere.
When I step off the plane in England and walk into the local for my first pint, my mates come up and give me a hug for all the time they haven’t seen me. They introduce me to the new people I have not met, and say, “This is James, he’s not from around here!” and they shake my hand and buy me a pint.
They ask me where I’m from, and I tell them that I’m American.
Post by: James R. Mitchener
Poetry in motion. Well done.
Cheers mate. Much appreciated.
Perfectly stated- these are also the Americans I know.
Thank you kindly.
Home is where your heart is. You didn’t mention that. You know where a pint of London Pride will always be at the ready for you. Well understood though.
I love the idea that home is where the heart is, but I’m not entirely sure I believe it’s true. Probably because I don’t really know what home is, so I substitute it for a person that makes me happy. But even then, that’s ephemeral. For everyone else, a home is permanent. It’s that place you grew up, that old town you remember so well from your childhood, the memories of years of growth.
Of course, a London Pride, a friend, and a bed to sleep in when the Pride takes its hold seems like a pretty good place to call home, even if it is ephemeral.
Ain’t that the truth? My husband (the American man I married while living in Copenhagen, after leaving Exeter, UK, where we had settled having been stationed in N. Ireland as the “Troubles” began, where we went after 2-/1/2 years in Singapore, after living in various places in Wiltshire, brought up by a Danish mother and an RAF father) recently died. Although I’ve lived in Minnesota for 34 years and have 2 children here, I feel totally untethered. People ask me: Well are you going back to England? And which England would that be? I ask.
First, I apologize for your recent loss. Second, I can completely understand where you’re coming from when you say “And which England would that be?” I have found, and discussed in several posts in fact, that the separation a TCK feels from home due to our natural inability to understand what it means often causes us to seek a sense of permanence in a partner. When that partner is no longer part of our lives, I imagine to us it’s the same feeling a FCK gets when they walk into their hometown and find it has been demolished and replaced with a Wal-Mart and a sewage treatment facility. Our partners become our home, because after all, we don’t know of anything else that has ever really been permanent. Again, I extend my sincerest condolences for your loss, and thank you for both sharing and commenting.
I feel like an alien in America – and that is the only passport I hold.
Remind me to NOT visit America again in a presidential election year :).
It doesn’t take multiple passports to feel out of place in the country you think you should be calling “home,” but just can’t bring yourself to do anymore. Heck, I only got my second citizenship 10 months ago, so I’ve been kicking it single-passport-confusion for the vast majority of my life.
And I couldn’t agree more. America in election year is like London during the Olympics. Except the election has a bit more racism and oppression than the unification of the world to play games, I think. But the chaos and cultural madness, that’ll be very similar. The competition simply isn’t as pleasant, but then neither is the “reward.”
Excellent. In certain respects being an expat or a foreigner is a thing to be. For me it is where I am most comfortable. I suspect because it allows me to hide in broad daylight. Is this escapism?
I don’t think it’s escapism. Or perhaps I don’t like the idea of it being escapism because I’m clearly doing it. Maybe the escapism is in me trying to find another definition for our blatant escapism?
Well done essay on identity! Hope to reblog this.
Thanks Marilyn, much appreciated. By all means!
This is Cecilia from Unsettled TCK here and I have been meaning to check up on your blog for quite awhile! Life seems to catch up sometimes and then time just flies away. I wasn’t sure if you saw my response, but I really enjoyed your comment on my blog post. Thank you.
I love this article. I genuinely commend you for being so patient. As I am sure you have gathered, patience is not my strong suit when it comes to belligerent ignorance and I appreciate someone who can handle the frustrating questions that we get. I actually do the exact opposite of you. As soon as it is established that I am “other”, I then spend the rest of the conversation trying to convince whoever I am talking to that I am just as ______________ as they are. I hate feeling like an outsider and I think that comes with my overwhelming need to adapt and fit in.
Anyway, I am glad to have made your acquaintance and hopefully we can keep chatting!
I’m really glad you liked my comment, Cecilia. As I was writing it, I realized that to many it might come off as attacking rather than what it was intended to say; that we are TCKs, but we are all completely different. I took a gamble, however, and assumed based on your writing (which is profound and fantastically composed by the way) that you would see the intention behind my choice of verbiage.
I’m really glad you like the article. I love your comment about the overwhelming need to adapt and fit in. I told you before in your post that I am a massive introvert, and while introversion doesn’t mean shyness (I am most certainly not shy by any means), I am exactly the same way. I simply need to fit in because I can’t handle the extensive and overwhelming stimuli accompanied with me trying to invent a way to provide valuable input to a community or conversation I don’t understand. But at the same time, I am not one of them, and when I want to fit in, I take a breath and think “you know what, not fitting in here isn’t bad. I can relate, and that’s what matters. If I show them that I’m different, that I’m not one of them, but that someone that isn’t one of them can understand them and relate to them, then maybe I’ll put a little chip in this globalized standard of ignorance.”
Of course, it doesn’t always work. But I try.
And I am glad to have made your acquaintance, also. You can email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep writing! I’m loving your blog. And thanks for visiting TCK Life.
I guess what makes it even harder is that we’re always the one who’s “not from around here”. Doesn’t matter if you hold the passport or not, when you’re around FCKs you’re always the foreigner, the one who comes from somewhere else (wherever that somewhere else may be, which in our case is so many places and not just one…). That’s a very difficult concept to explain to non-TCKs…
I agree, and I think the word difficult doesn’t even scratch the surface! As I keep this blog and try to explain the inner workings of a TCK, just one TCK, this particular TCK, I realize more and more with every analogy, every metaphor, every parallel, that capturing who we are and explaining it to FCKs is… well, it could be impossible. That being said, I will keep trying. I have always been trying for as long as I can remember.
I think explaining it is definitely very complicated, but I think there is perhaps more difficulty in understanding than there is in explaining. FCKs will never be able to fully grasp what it means and how it feels to be a TCK no matter clearly we explain; but on the flip side, us TCKs will never fully grasp when it means or how it feels to be a FCK. At least, that’s how I see it.
And I don’t mean that in a pessimistic way, or that we can never get along or have close friends that are FCKs. I just think that when it comes to understanding the fundamental differences between FCKs and TCKs, there will always be an invisible line dividing us. We can always find similarities with FCKs, certain things we have in common, but the lifestyle we had and how that’s affected our outlook on so many things will remain different.
Hope that makes some kind of sense!
Here’s an American falling into your description in that I desire to defend my country! I struggle with your painting of Americans, in “EVERYONE seems to hate the person next to them who . . .
WOW! Everyone??? I am not a TCK, but I have lived in other countries. When I go home, I struggle with some faults with my fellow-countrymen as those faults become more apparent to me. However, I’ve rarely personally seen hatred by my neighbors, friends, acquaintances towards others and I have personally seen a LOT of generosity to “different” others. I’ve seen not only money go to places of calamity, but American people using their personal vacation time to GO to help. Conversely, I feel Americans are NOT accepted by many people from other countries. It seems to me that it is automatically assumed by people from other countries that Americans are all arrogant and stupid, while most of the people I personally know are not! The exceptions perhaps do make up for the rest of us as they are AWFUL! If I only read the political comments re this last election, I would agree that it “seems” there is a lot of hatred going on. However, I feel the majority of us don’t rise (or fall) to the bait of those who are politically opposed. The problem is that the more ignorant and angry group are the most likely to respond hatefully re politics and unfortunately, this confirms for others that we are all an angry hateful bunch of people. I am truly sorry that you have been exposed to what sounds like some of the worst of us. And this past election was the bitterest I have ever seen. I think the reason is that the opposing parties are opposed on grounds that are scary for each group. The Republicans ARE AFRAID that their children will never be able to pay off the huge debt that has been authorized under President Obama and that under his leadership it will hugely increase again, and the Democrats ARE AFRAID that people who genuinely need help will not get it. And both parties fear that their opposing party is leading the country to doom and to huge decrease in jobs. This election was more fear-driven than any I’ve ever witnessed and I am 62 years old. Fear, unfortunately, brings out anger. Enough of my explanations! I love America & think it has many, many beautiful places (Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains (& other mountains), gorgeous oceans, lakes, wilderness ,etc., and many many beautiful people. However, I also totally love the beauty of the country I am currently living in. And I loved the stark beauty of the last country I lived in.
Pingback: A Christmas with Two TCKs | Third Culture Kid Life
Pingback: From Expat TCK to Domestic TCK | Third Culture Kid Life
Pingback: From Expat TCK to Domestic TCK | Third Culture Kid Life
I can totally relate! “Home” and “where I’m from” changes depending on my current location and my mood. In NZ, I’m Swedish Jen, And when I’m in Sweden, I’m Kiwi/Singaporean/Hong Kong Jen.