Sunday, April 6, 2008


Those who know me can vouch that the last way I would probably describe myself is as "an American." I'll proudly claim my San Francisco and California roots, but patriotism is not exactly my strong suit. So one of the things that's been interesting about being away from my country of origin is realizing how much I've been unwittingly marked by it. My generally unfailing punctuality is one dead giveaway, as is my nagging tendency to want to cross streets in an orderly manner, at stoplights and between well-marked white lines. (The latter habit I've made great strides toward breaking, as trying to follow it in Istanbul would mean I'd still be waiting at the corner with last week's groceries.)

More challenging to confront is the gravitational pull toward "productivity." For the first time since I was 17, I don't have a job, and though this does not pose any practical difficulties at the moment, it does open up a philosophical cans of worms. Who am I without a job? (I still say "gazeteciyim"--I am a journalist--even though I'm one without a outlet for my byline at the moment. For me, after all, that career has always been as much a way of looking at the world as a way to earn a check.) What am I accomplishing? What am I contributing?

Though to me those are all very personal questions, many people here have told me that they are also "very American." If I have the opportunity to not work for a while, they say, I should enjoy it, explore new things, stave off the 9-to-5 for as long as possible. I don't think I'll ever shed the desire, the drive to accomplish things, but I hope I can expand my definition of what that entails. And not just to make it less obvious where I hail from.

UPDATE: I'm apparently not the only expat who feels this way. This American woman who's been living in Scandinavia for 32 years puts it well:
"When you're an American living in America, it's one thing but when you live abroad in another country, in certain ways that feeling becomes even stronger because you realize that things that you think are individual characteristics are actually national ones so you identify even more strongly with your nationality."


Chuck Baldwin said...

Jen, I wish I had the time right now to read your blog. The first paragraph rings true for us in Vietnam though!

Adrian Cotter said...

Yeah, I had the same experience living abroad. My coming out as an American was in Taiwan :-)