Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Third Culture Heathens

Recently when reading a political article about why Americans don't 'get' Obama, I came across a concept that has provided food for thought ever since. Generally speaking, the term 'third culture' tends to refer to the kids of people that are living in a place that is not native to them for the purpose of work and then either move to another country or back to their 'native' land. These kids don't belong fully to either culture, neither the culture of their parents, nor the culture of the lands where they lived and grew. They're either 'too____' or 'not enough____' to be considered part of either of the cultures they've been exposed to. Instead they straddle the worlds, often having perspectives that are at best, out of synch with, or at worst, completely incomprehensible to those around them. Although I grew up very much a part of Northern English culture, over the years and throughout my travels, I've become something else. I'm English, but increasingly I'm finding my own culture becoming foreign to me. Every time I go back to visit, the places I grew up in seem a little more foreign, yet still strangely familiar all at the same time. With each visit, I feel a little more foreign in my own land. I know where I'm going, I understand the dialect, I know the places like the back of my own hand, but it's almost as though I've seen them in a dream before rather than lived in them. That sense of belonging that I used to have when I went home is almost gone now. But it's not like I gain familiarity with the place I now live. I don't feel anymore belonging, I'm still too foreign for that. And so I cling to what was once familiar, trying to stop the last remnants from slipping away, drinking my tea, making meat pies, speaking dialect at home, and taking every opportunity to talk about home as I can. Yet all the while the voice I use for the outside world is one that is more in line with this 'third culture' identity I've gained, and occasionally a fake American accent so I can get a takeaway place to understand me speaking my own language on the phone. That's not the only conundrum in the cultural puzzle that I've become either, my residences in Korea, France, Spain, Portugal and Germany have marked me just as strongly. Spoken German still holds a sense of familiarity and 'home' for me that I can't shake. Food eaten with chopsticks still seems to be my preference and I don't think I'll ever be able to stop bowing or handing things over with my right hand as a sign of politeness and respect. My hands do half of my talking now, although I never grew up that way. The ways in which my travel has changed me from that girl from Northern England are many, some subtle and some not so subtle. I've become 'third culture'. While it's one thing to recognise that you're 'third culture', it can get quite weird as a 'third culture' Heathen. As Heathens, we're more aware of things like land, culture, folklore, and ancestry. In fact, a lot of us draw our Heathenry from those things. However what of those of us that don't have that same sense of belonging? I don't know, I don't have any answers. I make my offerings, I try to learn the land here as I learn the culture and that god-awful accent I use when ordering takeout on the phone, and I get by. I do more than get by though, over the years I've made some fantastic Heathen friends here, so at least I have community, good people to serve as an introduction and who I'm honoured to call friends, but the rest...yeah, that's probably something I'll be musing on for a while. This isn't a sad post, I don't regret my travels for one moment, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. I've gained so much from my experiences and have hopefully set another layer in my family that will make it easier for others to follow in my steps. This post is just a musing.


Nigel Roberts said...

Interesting post. I get something similar here.
Except in my case I'm supposedly 'home'; less than a mile from where I was born, went to school, etc. The building I work in was built on land I explored as a kid.
I don't consider myself English (or Welsh), yet not British either. I left at 18, and came back at 40. After all these years, I still find myself doing or saying things that I've picked up on my travels that feel right, and others just don't get (Ach Mensch! Quatch!)
Hmmm..... Guess I'm just a stranger in a familiar land.

Anonymous said...

This post made me a bit emotional, as this is exactly how I've been feeling lately. Except I moved from one part of the US to another instead of between countries. But I've been feeling a similar out of sorts sense both here and back home, where I don't belong anywhere right now. I've noticed dialect differences, and even made sure I'm speaking in my native dialect when talking, which would have never been a thought in my mind before.

I'm just glad to know I'm not the only one. A few people I know have moved around, but they never mentioned having these feelings.