When my dog was a tiny puppy, she was cute, but hyperactive. She barked a lot and played with her poop. She peed every time she met someone new. She was loveable, but a handful. An adorable, stinky handful. She wasn’t stupid, she just needed some teaching and new experiences.
We worked on teaching her new words and how to do things. We took her to new places where she could sniff unfamiliar butts and discover the wonderment of poop that wasn’t her own.
The more she learns, the more she ventures out of her own yard, the happier she is. She’s also calmer and smarter for it.
Humans will never be able to live and love as well as dogs, but in one regard, we’re not so different: the more we learn and venture out of our own yard, the better we will be.
Traveling is good for you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a trip to another region in your own country, or if it’s several years abroad – it’s going to stretch your mind out a little. It can bend and twist your perspective. When you return home, the familiar has been slightly transformed. Not only because life has continued on without you there, but also because you’ve changed. Granted, the farther and more often you dare to roam, the more you’ll learn and change, but even a small distance is better than constantly ignoring the rest of the world from your couch.
The problem is, you can’t unlearn. You can’t mold your perspective into what it once was.
For expats, we can’t go home again.
Is that a complaint? No. It’s just how things are. It’s not that the the grass is greener on the other side, it’s that we’re sitting on a fence, looking at the nice green patches and unhealthy brown patches on either side.
Expats have a clear view of both sides… and have opinions about them.
However, I’ve been noticing that it often happens where the people sitting back home are under the impression that making the decision to live in another country means that an expat should leave their feelings about their native country behind.
Here’s another opinion: I think that’s bullshit.
Let me be clear about this: this isn’t a uniquely American thing. (Surprising, right?) I’ve seen it happen with my expat friends who have come from North and South America, Britain and other parts of Europe. We pay attention to what’s going on at home. Of course we do. And often, when voicing any sentiments other than homesickness, the response is absurd and ignorant at best… vitriolic at the worst.
One assumption seems to be that if I’m all the way in France, I can’t possibly know what’s going on back in the States. Firstly, this is pure nonsense. I’m watching what goes on in the U.S. The entire goddamn world is watching the U.S.
The most recent presidential election, I watched Barack Obama’s acceptance speech on live TV. Not streaming on the internet. On French TV. Have you ever seen the French elections live on American TV? Probably not. Last year, I saw a bit on TV where many American reporters didn’t even know who the president of France was, so I don’t have much faith in the average citizen paying much attention to any European elections.
Whenever there’s a mass shooting in the U.S. there is live coverage on the French news, just like it is in the States. The difference is the language and lack of partisan bullshit that the news networks in the U.S. have devolved into because it’s all filtered through a European lens. After you view the U.S. through that lens for a prolonged period of time, things appear profoundly different.
America is famous for its insularity. But many other countries pay a bit more attention. One of the main reasons being that they’re smaller. When you’re a smaller boat bobbing around in the water, you pay attention to the bigger boats making waves.
There’s also the fact that it’s quite simple to pay attention to what happens in far off places. Ever hear of the fucking internet? Twitter? I still have access to the same news sources; the same friends and family members.
It’s beyond daft to think that expats would stop watching home, or that we would cease to care.
Another assumption seems to be that if we leave to live in another country, we lose the right to complain or criticize. Is there a law stating that one can only voice less than flattering opinions about the U.S. from within its borders? Of course not.
A couple of years ago, I posted something on Facebook stating how nice it is that there is no American football and no Superbowl in France. Suddenly, I was “hating on all things American”. Never mind that I’ve expressed my disdain for most American sports countless times before I moved abroad, that I’ve never watched a single football game in my life, or have never attended a Superbowl party. My friends knew I hated football and didn’t care. But, expressing that from here… the response was French bashing, the always obnoxious chant of “USA! USA!” and asinine accusations of anti-Americanism.
That was just football. It gets worse if I voice opinions regarding America’s problem with gun violence, or mention their ignorance of geography.
Just after you hang a picture on the wall, what is the first thing you do? You take a step back and look at it carefully, examining how it appears against the other pictures on the wall. Only after you take a step back do you see how skewed it is in relation to all the other wall hangings – something you can’t see when you’re close to it.
Often, we get a better view from a distance.
Anyway, I still have the right to vote in the U.S. and I use it. That entitles me to bitch and poke fun.
Ironically, the people I seem to offend the most with my opinions are what I often refer to as “The Hyphens.” You know, those people who shout “USA! USA!” the loudest, yet claim to be some hyphenated nationality, in spite of being born in the U.S. to American born parents and grandparents. Irish-Americans. Italian-Americans. German-Americans. What-fucking-ever-Americans.
“It’s not enough to be American. You always have to be something else, Irish-American, German-American, and you’d wonder how they’d get along if someone hadn’t invented the hyphen.” -Frank McCourt
Me, I’m just a plain old, boring American with no hyphen. While I poke fun at France, get frustrated with certain facets of the way of life here, I love it. I’ll criticize some things about it, but I will always come down harder on the USA. Why? Well, why do parents yell louder at their own children than they do other people’s kids when they get into trouble? Because they expect better of their own. They have more invested in them. They love them more.
I didn’t leave the U.S. because I’m anti-American. I left because I fell in love with someone who happened to be from another country. Granted, some of the bullshit things about the States made it easier to leave, but I didn’t leave due to any loathing for my home country.
I left because I had to in order to live my life and because I wanted to explore beyond my own yard. And now, my perspective has gone from a hard plastic egg to a squishy glob of Silly Puddy that can be stretched, rolled and squished. Combine that with being opinionated or having a strong passion for certain issues and people are going to be offended, I suppose.
Too bad. If you know an expat who gets bitchy or vocal about things back home, don’t tell them, “You don’t even live here anymore!” because a part of them always will, or may again in the future. And try to keep in mind that the way they saw things when they were living right next door to you may have changed.
Better yet, go visit them. Take a look at what they’re seeing.
Or don’t. We can’t all be like my dog.