F It, I'm American Now.

So I'm writing again, and when I went to start this blog up, I signed back into Blogger to find two old posts from years ago waiting for me. I wrote them both in 2010, and had apparently republished them somewhere as writing samples in 2013. So I went ahead and revised and posted them so I wouldn't have just one post about something so heavy as a divorce sitting there all by its lonesome. 

One of those posts is about when I visited Iceland on the trip where I met the guy I'd eventually marry, and how I had a minor, comical identity crisis over not being Icelandic enough to comfortably shower nude in the women's locker room of the public pool. It's a fond memory, I even adapted it into part of a short play on public nudity that I cowrote and performed with two of my friends here in Austin for FronteraFest 2013 (it's the one called Nekkid). 

We're not "supposed" to care what people think of us, I know, but let's be honest, we all do to at least a tiny extent. Not necessarily what all people think, but at least what some do. And when you're a child growing up in a country that is not the country of your mother or your father (or both in many cases), the odds are high that you grew up with the home of your ancestors kind of exalted, so to speak. 

My mom is Icelandic, and did a great job raising us to identify strongly with our ethnicity, especially me as the oldest. In the early years, she was very homesick for her country and her family, and so her native culture was instilled in me as my own (which, technically, I suppose it is). She taught me the language, traditions, holidays, songs, lullabies, etc. And since I grew up moving every two to three years due to my father's work, there wasn't really a competing American subculture that was trying to usurp Iceland for first place in my heart. I didn't get a chance to fully belong to any single place in America, so I would belong to Iceland instead. Also, almost my entire extended family was there, including my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. For many years, visiting felt like going home, and that's what Icelanders call going to Iceland. You don't say, "I'm visiting Iceland this summer," you say, "I'm going home this summer." And while some people will tell you "Welcome to Iceland," when you're a native, more often they say, "Welcome home," even if, like me, you've never really lived there beyond the first few months of your life.

When I moved there to live with my now ex, I did have a couple of friends in Reykjav√≠k, but my family was in another town and I only saw them a couple of times over the almost-year that I lived there. So, I was really lonely pretty much the whole time. 

This is the part where I want to say to the less than five Icelandic people (literally, I counted) who have ever looked  over at me while sitting in a room with any number of people in it and said, "Inga, this is what we were just talking about, what are your thoughts?" Or invited me to hang out with you or even just like, said hi and asked me how I've been, you can disregard everything I'm about to write because you are all warm and friendly and you all know that I adore you guys. And you're not even friends with each other so great job being diamonds in the rough who somehow managed to grow up in a little town on a little island way up north in the middle of nowhere and come out sweet and nice. Go buy yourself an ice cream cone on me. (I'll reimburse you.)

I've never understood the mentality that you only stick with your friend group from childhood and never really fully expand to embrace new people. I actually took a course on Icelandic culture for foreigners at the University of Iceland while I was there, it was taught by a Canadian guy who had married an Icelandic woman and lived there for many years, had kids there, etc. He talked about the phenomenon in Nordic countries, how even if you marry a native, it will take well over a decade before any of their friends or family call you personally to hang out or invite you specifically to a function without just calling your partner and having them bring you along. Like, if you weren't there from the beginning, then you really never will fully integrate.

I genuinely cannot understand the appeal of being that closed off. 

Sure, I have friends I've known since middle school, but there are only a couple with whom I'm still close. And I have plenty of friends from high school, they're amazing people, but again, there are only a couple that I've stayed really close to over the years. I cannot at all relate to the impulse to stay in one place with the same people decade after decade, and never expand and only befriend and date from within this tiny pool of people FOREVER. I'm not trying to be flippant or rude, I really don't understand. I mean, you go through so many changes between the ages of twenty and thirty, let alone between the ages of twelve and thirty, that you're bound to drift apart from some people and draw closer to others. If I were still dating my college boyfriend after all these years, I would be experiencing a level of misery heretofore only imagined by darling Franz Kafka himself. I know it's certainly possible to find a really great bunch of people in your early years and then never need to expand beyond them, but why would you want to? That's the part I don't get. The desire to stay closed off. 

As an outsider with sort of one foot on the island, I often feel like the first moment you speak up at a party there, or even at intimate gatherings where there's really no way to avoid each other, people tend to look at you like you just dropped your pants and took a shit on the floor. Not an aggressive shit, not a, "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, guess what, now this is happening," shit on the floor, but like the fact that you opened your mouth and spoke when you haven't known everyone there for a bare minimum of eleven years is shocking and slightly embarrassing. Like, they're uncomfortable and a little embarrassed for you that you decided that you would make like a human being and converse. 

It might just be me. Maybe there's something off-putting about me that makes the average Nordic person deeply uncomfortable. I've given it some thought over the years, and I suspect this might be the case. I can't put my finger on what it might be, but there is a strong possibility that something about me rubs them the wrong way. I don't know.

Because, honestly? If I had a friend who brought their girlfriend over from another country, and she didn't know anybody and was just sort of standing around shyly whenever I saw her, I would make it my mission to be her friend, at the very least until she eventually found a group of her own. 

That's the American way. If you're from a different place, even the most unworldly of us will at least ask you questions about your life back home, if you miss your friends, what kinds of things you like to do, because showing interest is a way to show someone you care. I would be more than happy to like, take her around the room and introduce her to people, crack some self-deprecating jokes to put her at ease and make her laugh, and then you can bet your hat I would get her phone number and make plans to get together and do something she enjoyed. And then I would follow through. Yes, I can and do follow through with making plans with potential new friends. I reach out every once in a while to people I know just to see how they're doing. I make sure they feel included in a group conversation when no one else even notices they're there. It's part of being a good human being, and it means a lot to the person who feels out of place. 

And just about every single American I know would do the same thing. You know how I know? Because I've been the new girl so many times in America, too, even in small towns in the middle of nowhere, and by the end of the very first day of school or work, every single time... I will have met everyone I work with. They won't look at me like I have an octopus crawling out of my ears when I smile and say hi, either. Instead they'll -gasp!- smile back and exchange a few niceties just to show they have a soul. I will have gone to lunch with at least one coworker because it's my first day and that's what you do, and I'll hit it off with at least one person I would now call a tentative new work friend. Say what you want about Americans, I know we're not a perfect people, but one-to-one we know how to make a new person feel welcome. If nothing else, it's just plain polite. 

So, in other words, part of my experience of growing up a cross-cultural, third culture kid who is now an adult is finally giving up on fitting in in the land where I was born. I'm not really a true Icelander, and I don't want to be. I'm sick of trying to get the grammar right. IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE! I speak Spanish. I'm going to learn French and Italian next, so suck it, people who correct my grammar and ask me if I'm foreign because I make so many mistakes when I talk. YEAH. I AM FOREIGN. I'M A FOREIGNER, AND I LIKE IT THAT WAY. Now get me whichever word for the number three matches the gender of the pastry I'm pointing to, put it in a bag so I can pay for it and get the hell out of here. (I go to a lot of bakeries when I'm in Iceland.) I'm sick of standing around pretending to be a reserved person who doesn't need to have fun in groups of people when I'm bored out of my fucking skull. (Sometimes I was having a good time, don't get me wrong. If I was really laughing and/or dancing wildly, I was having a good time.) And I'm not going to like, try to fit in with the fashion trends there or anything like that. I like what I like, I wear what I wear, and I prefer jeans to leggings. So sue me. 

No one forced me to try to fit in there in any way, but it was more about like, having a split identity between America and Iceland. Also, it's human nature to try to connect with the people around us because we're social creatures, and if next to no one's reaching out to bring you into the fold, then it's only natural to make an effort from your own side to find some acceptance. But no more. I'm over it. Like, way over it. 

I'm a child of Earth. And you know what? I'm American, dammit. Who cares. Basically everyone who moves here can say that about themselves at any time that they decide they want to. And honestly only the worst humans who like, troll people on the internet would ever say anything against them in that regard. I don't mean to sound like a Bruce Springsteen song, but you really can be anyone you want to be here and no one will give you any shit about it. But if anyone does, there's an awful lot of room to spread out and find your tribe. That's what I did. 

Fuck it, here's Bruce: 












Comments

Popular Posts