At home, abroad; the expatriate

Forgotten abroad, is the expatriate.

Charles Dickens would have named the person sitting across from me, "the well-meaning relative." Late into the night, the interrogator repeatedly hammered as to why we lived abroad? "How will your kids ever grow up to be real Americans, when they've never lived in the USA?"

My overtired brain had no snappy response.

Days later my 7-year-old son overheard me recount the event, at which point he stopped whatever he was doing to interject, "But Mom! Doesn't she understand that because we've lived all over the Americas, we are more American than Americans?"

Out of the mouth of an expatriate child. I was so proud. Seven-years-old and he knew that everyone living in North, South and Central America are Americans.

Even expatriates were puzzled. A friend living in Curacao in the 1980s was astonished that we'd chosen to move from that desert island to Guayaquil, Ecuador. "Why the hell would you give up one Third-World toilet for another?" she verbally slapped me.

After 6 years living in Westport, Connecticut in the early 1990s, when friends learned we were moving to Mexico City, the question was edgier. "Are you being punished?" After the move, skeptical eyes would ask concernedly, "Do you really like living in Mexico City?"

Living abroad as an expatriate wasn't easy for many people to understand, either then or now. On our return from over there, we were often treated like an exotic prized pig when introduced, "This is Candace, who lives in fill in the blank, in South America!"

Others were jealous of our imaginary foreign lifestyle, given all they understood of it was that we came back to the USA to go to doctors and shop. No one seemed to question why we had to go so far to see a doctor, or what we couldn't buy abroad.

Then there were the bitter 'road not taken' ones, who'd share war stories of the places they didn't move because it had been too foreign. Places like Alaska.

And there were those who felt threatened. After all, if there is something positive to be said for living abroad, what does that say about the USA?  Isn't the United States of America the best of all place in the world to live? Ask the Norwegians.

Since too many people thought we were visiting braggarts who shopped a lot when we came back to Gringolandia, I learned to be discrete like a young man I knew who went to Yale. When asked where he was going to college, he'd shrug and say,"Me? Oh I go to college in New Haven."
The landline rings in Chicago, circa 2004.
"Mom" whispers my daughter living and working in England.
"Yes," I whisper back. Why is it whispering encourages others to whisper?
"Mom, do you ever feel like---well, uh--you know. Like you want to move again?
Sighing I knew exactly how she felt. "Yes," I confessed. Though we'd been in Chicago the same amount of time she'd been in England, I would have moved tomorrow if the opportunity arose.

Maybe it's genetic?

 

 

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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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