Thursday, September 17, 2009

What am I?

I need to get this off my chest and am looking to see if I am alone in feeling this way.

Talking to my friend Irene (the one who calls me the "Crazy Ang Moh"), she asked me why I was so unlike the other Westerners she had ever met. I know she meant it in a good way, but it got me to do a bit of soul searching. I was born and raised and very well-educated in the UK, but I've also lived in Japan and have spent most of the last fifteen years as a permanent resident of the USA. I really like traveling and seeing new places and trying new things, but part of my ability to adapt to new things is that I am essentially rootless. And I don't think that's a good thing.

A child of military parents, I never spent more than 2years in any one place until the age of 12, and many friends have been forced to buy new phonebooks to fit all my addresses in. When people ask about my "home", the answer I give depends on the questioner. An American stranger hears my accent and assumes my "home" is in England somewhere: even my American work colleagues also make the same mistake. My Asian colleagues know my home is in the US, but also know that my heart often isn't.

My other thing I like to do is at least learn a little of the language and culture of each place I visit, even if it's "thank you" "hello" and "goodbye", and I have a strong resentment of those Westerners who pride themselves in their failure to fit in: "I've never even learned hiragaaaana" as one pompous ass told me after living 20years in Tokyo. Even yesterday, a senior executive for an automotive company I'd been chatting with presented himself at the hotel counter and said "Ni hao: that's all the Chinese I know". Buddy, you know the Ugly Canadian very well. You shave his face every day.

So what am I? An Anglo-American? A citizen of the world? A rootless freak? Is anyone else in the same boat? How do you answer the question "Where do you come from?".

Safe travels! Des

1 comment:

  1. My non-English language skills are usually limited to hello, goodbye, excuse me, that was delicious, where is a toilet, two beers please - which gets me through many, if not most, social encounters. That said, I do feel woefully inadequate when it seems that many residents of many countries seem capable of carying on conversations in at least three languages!

    I don't you what you are either - though I would be happy to buy you a beer and see if we could work it out. It might require more than one beer. No doubt though, we share that frisson of looking out into strange streets from the windows of public transport and wondering "what goes on here"?