There’s No Place Like…
When I first moved to Germany I expected to encounter prejudices. The Germans would certainly have pre-formed opinions of me as an American, as I myself would have towards my new country of residence. I was prepared to challenge and be challenged over the validity of these preconceptions. But to my surprise I had also to contend with prejudice from an unexpected source: my fellow Americans.
It was subtle at first, manifested in otherwise trivial encounters:
- American immigration officers greeting me with “Welcome Home” in American airports.
- American call center representatives who, upon hearing my German mailing address, ask “Oh, how long will you be posted in Germany?” and when told that I’m not in the military, “oh. How long do you have to stay before you can return?”
- Federal government websites and electronic forms that allow FPO addresses, but not foreign mailing addresses or telephone numbers.
- Well-meaning friends and family who repeatedly ask “When are you coming home?”
Other more malicious and more hurtful experiences followed: direct challenges to my integrity and my patriotism.
I am an American. I’m proud to be from the United States. It is part of who I am, and always will be. I vote in the United States, file American taxes, and am passionately concerned with its politics. I have no wish to renounce my citizenship; although married to a German citizen, I hold an American passport and claim all my rights accordingly. And yet in many ways I’m treated like an outcast, less of a citizen, than someone who lives in the US.
I’ve come to realize that for the majority of Americans, there is no place in their world view for American citizens who voluntarily choose to live outside their native country. Living abroad to serve your country, in the form of military or diplomatic service, is a noble sacrifice. A job posting overseas for an American company is an exotic, but by definition finite, opportunity. But if you choose permanently not to reside in the United States, you are not a “true” American. The American “love it or leave it” mentality assumes that you must be so dissatisfied with your country that you have renounced your right to be part of it. The United States is the best/richest/freest/whatever-ist country in the world, why would anyone born here choose to live anywhere else unless he/she were communist/socialist/opposed to democracy? Why else would you choose not to live “at home”, unless you are a tax cheat, or a fugitive criminal?
For me the definition of home is not tied to one permanent geographical location. Home is where my piles of laundry sit waiting to be done, and the remnants of last night’s dinner slowly form their own ecosystem in the kitchen I’ve postponed cleaning. Home is where I can find things without having to open a suitcase or sort through boxes. Most importantly, home is where my husband and I lie together in bed night after night in the dark and talk about what concerned us today, and our plans for tomorrow. Home is where he and I together choose, for practical and/or emotional reasons, to base ourselves physically for the forseeable future. As citizens of the world.
Yes, I am a United States citizen living outside the geographical borders of my native country. And yet I still, and will always, live at home.
Thanks, Cat. That has needed to be said for a long time. You just took all my thoughts of the past 20 years and formed them into an understandable format.
AMEN, Cat! My biggest pet peeve is that most people assume that Germany is occupied only by American soldiers. Heaven forbid we should actually marry and live with an actual GERMAN!
Hi Cat, Kudos for putting it into words. People who have never lived outside of the USA or travelled outside the USA have NO idea about the rest of the world and yet profess to know these things, b/c……….. i have no idea. I am so glad to be able to live and travel outside of the US and have these experiences. I would never trade them for anything! I am a person who likes to examine how things are done in many places and evaluate them for myself, I really don’t want other people to tell me how to think. Just my preference, b
Cat, this is great! You have really hit the nail on the head. Thanks so much for sharing this.
To the point! Touche! And may I add that it is worse when you come back…thank god I have a German husband or I dont think anyone would understand just going without at least a potential husband in the works. Great piece…to the point, concise and very true to my heart on the entire theme of living abroad. We should change the name of the AWCH to “Broads Abroad”
Thanks everyone for your comments! Makes me feel good that I’ve hit on something others can appreciate.
wow cat thats some great reading xxx
Well, I’ve heard you talk about it, and I enjoyed reading it. I agree, as you already know, and I’m going to go boldly ahead and say: I think it’s a thing of the Americas. Canada is the same. Talking to people back home about being in Europe is a frustrating process. They understand moving away…to another city, another province, migrating where the works at…but Europe? Though I will in no way recommend the movie, Revolutionary Road nailed that aspect of American society in the head. When the couple told their friends and colleges they were planning to move to Paris, everyone just laughed behind their backs, or in their faces.
I think the mentality is as old as our Countries themselves. In a place where people arrived because they were running away from something, even 400 years later they can look at you and say: why are you going back there? We left it for a reason!
Ah well, home will be home 😉
p.s. might I just say, this website just went up in my esteem? Having pressed “submit” I was sent to a page indicating I have to fill out my email address, fearing that I would have to retype EVERYTHING, I pressed “back”, and happily found my entire text patiently waiting…very good 😀