Strange strangers

If you read my last post you know I am an immigrant. Although my main reluctance to moving back to the States is because I find living in Japan as a foreigner easier then living as one in America, the current political environment in the US is not encouraging for a gal like me either.

Here is an example of how each and every person born in America has ever made me feel like an outsider:

Stranger: Hi. Your dogs are huge. They look like bears.

Me: Indeed. People tend to say that a lot.

Stranger: Where are you from?

Me: Whidbey island.

Stranger: NO, I mean where are you originally from?

Me: Slovenia.
What I want to say: Where are you from? Like originally? Cause you don’t really strike me as a native American either…

Stranger: Yeah, I could sense a slight accent but I couldn’t place it. Thought you were British.

Me: I get that a lot.
What I want to say: Is that meant to sound like a compliment?

Stranger: Slovenia? That’s like Eastern Europe right? Part of Russia, one of the communist countries?

Me: Not really but yes it is in Europe.
What I want to say: Probably two hundred miles away to where your family is from originally…

Stranger: So how did you end up in America?

Me: I met my husband abroad and we eventually relocated to The States because of his work.
What I want to say: How did you end up being born here and not back on the continent I come from?

Stranger: That’s nice. Bet you were happy to move here.

Me: Yes. It is nice to be together as a family.

Stranger: No I meant…

I will spare you the rest. Now oddly enough I never have those conversations with other immigrants, ever. You might think it is because we don’t want to embarrass each other but that’s not the case. Once you establish the person is different from you pointing that out while trying to make a conversation has the opposite effect. Not because I am not happy to explain to you where I come from, how we live, what the land looks like and so on but because that is something that will develop over the course of conversation that will hopefully turn into friendship. But pointing out that I am different from you, how is this making us become friends?

Imagine if tables were turned:

Stranger: Hi. Your dogs are huge. They look like bears.

Me: Indeed. People tend to say that a lot.

Awkward silence where we scramble to look for something to talk about. Then puff I become curious about something obvious. Great conversation starter I say!!!

Me: So what’s your hair color?

Stranger: Blond.

Me: No, I mean your natural hair color.

Stranger: ????!!!?? Brown.
What the stranger wants to say: WTF?

Me: Yeah, I could see the roots, they are not that obvious yet but I figured you can’t be blond. I thought maybe dark blond.

Stranger: ?????!!!!
What the stranger wants to say: Are you for real?

Me: Have you been coloring it for long?

Stranger: Since high school.
What the stranger wants to say: This is the most obnoxious conversation I have ever had.

Me: Wow, that’s a long time. You must be really glad you have discovered hair coloring kits at that age. Imagine what opportunities being blond has brought you.

Stranger: What do you mean?
What the stranger wants to say: If I went through my life as a brunette I would not have been as happy? How freaking dare you judge me or my decisions?

Me: Well I mean because I as a …

Before you start going through your mind wondering of every time you might have ask someone like me where we are from and feeling like from now on you must tiptoe around people even more, before you throw your arms up in the air and say political correctness will be the end of us all let me assure you that I am not getting my knickers in a twist. I am used to it. Just like not being white in America you live with the fact you might be perceived as criminal faster, just like being Muslim you don’t pray in public, just like being a woman you don’t argue when you are paid less, just like being single you avoid going to dinners with couples. We all know that what makes us different will be exposed and label us. That’s life. But in America, the land of immigrants where every single person has a different story of becoming American labeling makes the least sense. Over the years I have learned that Americans label each other because they believe that is what makes them different and special. But coming from a tiny nation where most look the same, think the same and sound the same I can assure you each and every person is unique no matter how similar their background is. So being American but not white, male and Christian doesn’t make you any less American. And if my husband ever decided to return the favor and embrace my language and my land and make it his home I would hope that instead of thinking of him as “The American” when he would walk our dogs Slovenians would be chuffed that he decided to be a Slovenian and cross all obstacles to become one. Because living somewhere, learning to speak and think in a foreign language, embracing the culture, paying the taxes and identifying yourself as one the same should be what brings you closer to people and not something that makes you different.

Leaving Japan

After nearly two years in Japan the time has come for us to return back to the States. I have not written anything on the blog because living abroad has stripped me of my northwestmomminess. So in order to not sound anti-American I have avoided sounding anything at all. Let me explain.

Living in Japan has reminded me of how it feels to be part of your society, how it feels to fit in, to be included. Most of us bloggers found our voice because we didn’t fit the norm. Moms speaking up on motherhood, people moving abroad, women defying standards, men choosing to stay home, photographers embracing the new era of picture taking, families traveling on a budget, homeschooling, adopting, marrying same sex partners… You name it. Most blogs are born out of the need to explain how we are negotiating change or challenging times. For me I started writing when we moved to USA. Although I relocated to Washington state as a US citizen and I lived abroad most of my adult life I was an outsider. Perhaps growing up watching sitcoms Americans seemed to us Europeans just like us except more free spirited, opinionated and with bigger cars but once I made America my home I realized the main difference is not how we act but how we think.

In Europe, much like Japan we celebrate togetherness and achievements as a society. We strive to work and contribute to society first and in the process find personal success and fortune. If we do not achieve these we don’t stand out tremendously because when it comes to basic human needs they are met and not having more then your neighbor is not viewed as a failure but more as a personal choice. I’m sure this could be disputed, it’s just how I was brought up and how I see my friends still living back home and it is how I perceive Japanese who quietly commute on the train, politely greet each other on hiking trails and go out of their way to not inconvenience others.

In America we are taught you can be anything you set your mind to because you are fortunate to live in the land of opportunity. In order to do that you must work hard on yourself and by yourself yet the measure of how successful you end up being is set by society. And that measure lets be honest is to end up being a rich, white guy…

So after we moved to Japan I became European again. I went around every day fitting in. No longer did I have funny stories of me trying to negotiate through daily life because everything fell in place. I might look different, don’t speak the language and perhaps struggle remembering with all the etiquette differences but when I look around I see my people. They act like me and think like me and that is why I am sad to leave for sure.

On the bright side I will no doubt find our new city challenging so stay tuned 🙂