Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Feeling like a Foreigner

An acquaintance of mine recently moved back to the United States after several years living abroad. He commented that he felt like a foreigner in his own country. "What once seemed normal now looks ridiculous" he said. I myself return to the States every year or so for a quick visit and on every occasion feel as this acquaintance does now. And frankly, upon a fair bit of reflection, I like that. It means that I have become able to look at American culture in the same way that I look at every other culture that I encounter, i.e. as something weird, and because of that weirdness, as something infinitely intriguing. From questions as mundane as why Americans generally prefer tanned skin (when so many other cultures prefer white skin) to ones as important as why Americans have an aversion to child labor (when in most other parts of the world such labor is the norm and considered healthy), I actually value the fact that I no longer have any emotional or instinctual opinion on either of these issues, or countless others, that would identify me as coming from an American cultural heritage. And its not that I look down on that American heritage anymore than I look down any other heritage, which is to say not at all, but I do feel as if I have distanced myself from it and that this distance allows me to reflect upon it in a way that I find valuable.
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