A woman on a praia in Bahia spoke about her son’s love of America and its culture before he even stepped foot on North American soil. When he was old enough, he moved to the States. She laughed ruefully as she stated that when he finally arrived he wrote her and told her that he was home. I don’t understand it, she said. How can you feel at home in a place you’ve never known?
Good question. It’s one that I have no answer to but the sentiment is a familiar one: Sometimes it’s not the place you’re from that feels like the best fit.
If someone told me I’d been spirit-snatched – that somehow my spirit was from some other country and had placed in an American body – I’d hardly be surprised. In fact, it would explain an awful lot. It’s not that I don’t enjoy being an American but sometimes I don’t feel very American. I was born here (1st gen) yet place me in some other culture in some other country and I often feel like more at home. Other places I’ve felt more at home: Brazil, London, Jamaica (though this shouldn’t count considering my family is West Indian). Though I’m still intrigued as to the “why” of this phenomenon, I’m coming more to an acceptance of the feeling on a whole and more interested in figuring out how to reunite my cultural spirit with it’s home.
Last week, Language Tutor commented on the work ethic norms of people in his home country. “There is no work ethic,” he said. “Things are not rushed and often get pushed until later.” We laughed over the inefficiency of such work practices but secretly it sounded marvelous. Check my email tomorrow? Sit down to drink my coffee rather than hastily swiping it from the Starbucks counter in a rush to get to the next person, place, thing? Have face to face meetings that start out with every topic except work? There’s a sense of a person-centric way of doing business, not just in his culture, but in other non-Western cultures.
The above might sound lazy. I’ve wrestled with that idea – perhaps I like it more because it suggests less work, less urgency. But, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no slouch. I work 9-5, 5 days a week, see clients during the evenings, and provide academic tutoring on the weekend. In the few hours I have to myself, there’s a relationship, friendships, language classes, and attempts to engage in the tricky work of self-care by way of movies, books, and the gym (the latter is the trickiest of them all). If my time feels more free now it’s only because I’ve just graduated from grad school. So no, it’s not that lazy is the issue, I just think maybe some cultural attitudes resonate more even though I’m from a place with very different norms. No, I think Language Tutor’s people do have a work ethic and it’s one that I’d like to adopt.
It’s not just work ethic. I’ve experienced other cultural differences that revolve around relationships, language, gender & sex roles, spirituality. Travels have become part vacation and part nest-seeking; vetting out what feels best, like Goldilocks, taste-testing for the “just right.”
It’s more than a “grass is greener” complex, but a real sense of fitting in better elsewhere. Being that it’s not quite the time to fully entertain a complete upheaval of my life here, I’m working on navigating life with this transcultural feeling. Certainly there are some things that can’t be changed and I’ll probably always filter things through an American cultural lens first (even when debating how much I want to adhere to it) but like many other things in life, culture is not fixed. It changes and shifts…so maybe it makes sense that there are certain cultures that “fit” with who we are, our values, and our way of being. And maybe that shifts over time too. I look forward to finding out.
Thoughts, experiences, comments? Do share!