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.

9 thoughts on “Strange strangers”

  1. Twitter: bocafrau
    I can relate to this so much as I still have these conversations at least once a week even though I’ve lived here for more than 20 years and longer than I lived in Germany. Don’t even get me started on explaining the whole German/Berlin Wall thing. Most don’t get it.

    1. Twitter: NorthWestMommy
      I know what you mean. I really love meeting new people and talking about things and it never really bothered me until I started thinking if others have these conversations about something other that could be more hurtful. this whole ‘you people’ seems so obsolete in a land of foreigners.

  2. Being an American you have the right to speak out that is why you have freedom of speech. But it gets so old listening to everyone voice their freedom of speech while many, many, many others remain quiet and considerate of others. Yes, there is always going to be the few that are loud and obnoxious where ever you go and they are not just from America. Those few are what people focus on and then stereotype the remaining as how we all are. Is that right? It’s so frustrating how people want and expect America to be perfect when surely it is not. It’s not perfect, just like every country, every place, every life is not perfect but people still put the stigma on America and Americans. I know my life is not perfect but it is the life I chose. I am not fortunate enough to have dual citizenship therefore if I am not happy here, I cannot pick up my family and move somewhere else and yes I can try but chances are jobs in another country will be harder for me to get because I am not native there and I understand that too.
    Being an American gives you your voice here in the states. You are able to have a blog and speak what you want. That is truly a right. What if everyone in American voices their right? Who is right and who is wrong? Surely if you didn’t agree you would be upset. Does that make is wrong? Does it make it right? But you have the right to freedom of speech, shouldn’t you voice your opinion? And everyone has the right to listen or not.
    I started following your blog because because one day my daughter said, “Hey mom, you should follow this person, she is local and she has a Newfie.” I love newfies, so I thought why not. It wasn’t because of where you came from, it wasn’t because you were an American or not. It was just a simple, that’s cool and she is local. It’s brings this small world a little closer.
    Many times people want to criticize American and Americans and want to fit all of us into a mold, you included since you are a citizen here. But we come from every where and we bring all the good and bad with us when our ancestors came to America. But you are fortunate, you have the ability to leave if you are not happy. Some may say but your family is here, and this is where your husband works. Well, that’s the same us all of us. And we chose to stay, good, bad or in different because that is what America is made of. I would say, if you really aren’t happy somewhere and you have the ability to change it, then please do, otherwise make another choice. Choose happy or chose the best that can be. We Americans are not all the same, some have voices and speak them very loudly and drown out other voices. Welcome to America, where you have a voice and can speak it. It may not be accepted all the time and you may not be accepted all the time but you have a voice and you have a choice to come or go.
    Of course the polite thing would be to say that this is not intended to offend anyone and truly it is not. But people, pull up your big boy pants. NO PLACE is perfect and no life is perfect. Life is too short, either suck it up or move on but quit condemning America for the very same reason why you came here, to have freedoms and a voice.
    On another note, welcome back. It sounded like you enjoyed your time in Japan. I hope you enjoy your time back home. I have enjoyed your posts in the past.

  3. Twitter: NorthWestMommy
    Betsy thank you so much for your reply. I love starting conversations. One thing that I was taught is that knowledge comes when you stop talking and start listening. I am hearing you loud and clear and I am seeing things from your perspective. What I admired about the few Americans I met when I was young was their unconditional patriotism. Many governments in the world would try to force it through restrictions and force or propaganda but in US people are always very passionate about defending their country and it’s pillars and it seems to come naturally.
    With my post I wasn’t bashing others but trying to in a comic way describe how the most well-intended actions can cause a divide instead of bringing people closer together. Now more then ever I believe we need to learn how to listen to each other and find common ground. So instead of being insulted by something other person says trying to put ourselves in their shoes and see it their way. Then learn from each other.
    If I share some of my past experiences or ideas I grew up on that doesn’t make me complain about America. That makes me contribute to the society. Things evolve everywhere. Some countries are oppressive and harbor status quo for a long time and change happens underground. Some countries are open minded and change happens spontaneously. Some countries are somewhere in between. And none of us know where our homeland is until we fully immerse ourselves into living somewhere else.
    If I had a penny for every time someone told me ‘if you are not happy leave’… And I can tell you that while living in the Middle East or other European countries I was never told that so it truly would be America that would make me rich. That argument seems like one of those sentences that I tell my son when I have zero desire to continue the conversation about whatever he is trying to persuade me to do. It is very effective because it makes me look bad. Like I am not worthy of living in US because I don’t like some things about it. Are people not worthy of eating in restaurants when they complain there is a fly in their soup? Americans can complain about everything accept their country because that makes you unpatriotic. In Japan and Europe it’s rather the opposite. Freedom of speech is rarely used in public to voice our everyday grievances but we are first to call behavior that we think of as inhumane even if it calls out our constitution. Not that we are always right. Far from it. But it makes wheels move and avoids being stuck in one way. On paper to an American places like Japan seem less modern and progressive because they appear traditional. Once we move here we learn that they might act traditionally but they sure have a modern way of looking at things. No place is perfect in my opinion is a poor excuse for not trying to make it better. If my son brings home bad grades because he can’t be bothered to study I will not love him any less but I sure won’t support that behavior either. As a parent I have both rights and responsibility to call it out and stir him in a different direction.
    As for having options you are correct. Every American can become a citizen of another country. It will involve leaving everything you have behind and starting fresh. Learning a foreign language, navigating through daily life in a different way and teaching your children to fit into the society that will be far from how you were raised. I can tell you from experience that it is not easy but it certainly can be done. It is true that my reason for becoming a US citizen is falling in love but there are plenty of people out there that were unhappy with the situation in the homeland and decided to look for a home that aligns better with their thoughts and hopes and chose America. Imagine how they feel everyone points out they are a foreigner after going through all that to make America their home?
    I understand what you meant and I do believe my writing today will seem to many as rude and confrontational. I am not trying to provoke a fight but rather open a path for dialog. If you could stand in the middle of Paris and shout from the rooftops: “Just because we like sightseeing in sneakers doesn’t mean Americans are not chic, it means we are reasonable and care about the health of our feet.” wouldn’t that be nice? Just like everywhere around the world others stereotype US citizens we stereotype them. But when a US citizen chooses to stereotype another, feelings are hurt differently. I am sorry if saying that it bothers me that I am being reminded of my immigration with every person I meet. I should have considered how it may come across to a non immigrant for me calling someone from their ranks out. I do hope however that this goes both ways? All the great nations have one thing in common: they not only give freedom of speech but they listen to it when it is exercised. Even and perhaps especially if the ones talking are wearing little girl skirts.
    I hope to return to Whidbey, it is definitely my home. I love each and every single thing about it especially the community. But for now we must go somewhere else in the States first…

  4. Well said and bravo my dear.
    My Dad was the oldest child of a first generation Croatian father and lord knows truly how long his Mom’s Irish side of the family have been here. So keep a visual image of a rather tall , pale, green eyed man in mind. Fast forward to a gathering of park rangers many years ago – where my Dad was a participant, representing the Grand Canyon (where he worked as one). The crown was large and the main speaker was talking and he asked if anyone in the crowd was native American. Well, my Dad raised his hand….
    The guy next to him turned and asked rather enthusiastically what American Indian tribe my father was from. (remember the pale green eyed bit) With out missing a beat he smiled his charming smile and said, “oh I’m not American Indian, I was born in America” LOL well, we all understood my father’s humor and would have enjoyed the look on that other guy’s face. It is rather poignant given your post and what the heck is going on in our country.
    We could say we American’s are just curious and like conversation, as I wonder now if I have ever done it. Yet, it brings it right around to manners – and by golly we all live here and we are all in it it together.
    And saving the best for last…I am so thrilled you’re coming home! :::happy dance:::

  5. Hi Stasha.
    I’m an avid Newfie lover and found photos on Pinterest that led me to your blog, but ”tis post and the one before it are incredibly moving.
    The otherness and labelling of American culture seems to beget the calling out of differences to those perceived to be less American, while being absolute appalled at the suggestion of the same.
    I am American, from probably one of the most stereotypically American thinking areas of the country, yet I still feel other. Still different.
    These posts really sum up some things I’ve never been able to nail down because I’ve not had other experiences. Thank you for sharing them and I’m thrilled to have found your blog.

    New follower, for sure.

    All the best.

  6. Glad the blog is back! I can relate to this so much. People ask me ALL THE TIME what my nationality is. I wanna say “American” but I know they WANT to hear “Puerto Rican”. I get asked if my eye color is my real eye color. My favorite is “what are you? You’re so exotic looking.” *rolls eyes* I know people are just curious and usually have good intentions but it’s annoying.

  7. I want to welcome you back to the US. I know you will find the same nosy people. It kind of comes with the ownership of huge dogs. I get it every time I take our Newfie for a walk.
    I was sad to read how you struggled to fit in. I live in a neighborhood where having an accent it more the norm than not.
    The couple across the street are Russian, a few doors down is a Polish family and around the corner is one of my favorite people who happens to be French. I’m an American, born and bred.
    I think many of us are curious about people from other places. Though I’ve never asked I’d love to have a conversation with several of them about where they came from and how they got here. But I know many of them might not want to talk about it so I don’t ask. I just think it’s a shame we can’t talk about things openly. Getting to know people better is one think but poking your nose into their business isn’t right.
    I truly hope thinks go better this time. I love your pictures…. Best Wishes,
    Pat Williams

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