Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“You’re Not From Around Here”

“Did she just say what I thought she said? my co-leader asked me, and I laughed.

“You mean ‘You’re not from around here?'” I said, which was not exactly what she had said but was exactly what she meant. He laughed.

“Exactly!” he said, and he laughed.

She had not used those exact words, but, uncomfortable with some of the questions our diplomats were asking, and clearly over her head, she had turned to me and asked me how long I’d been here, and dismissing me, told the group she had been here all her life, etc. I hadn’t been arguing with her. I hadn’t said a word. I was just the nearest dog to kick, someone on whom she could vent her frustration.

It’s so human. I’ve never lived anywhere that I didn’t hear some version of it, rarely to my face, usually about others, but it’s a fall-back position and it is present in every culture.

I told him about my many moves – 31 – and my cat theory. When you bring a new cat into a house with cats, you shut the new cat in a room (with food and litter, you know, cat things) until the other cats get used to the smell. Then you allow the new cat among the old cats for a short time and put it away again. You do this for a couple days, and then allow the cat to be among the other cats with you present to see how it goes. Sometimes it takes a while for the new cat to be accepted. Sometimes a cat just fits right in.

I told him I do the same thing, when I get to a new place I just quietly show up, in church, in a new group or two, and stay quiet. I watch who sits with whom, I listen to what they say. Sometimes one time with a group is enough, and I know it’s never going to be a good fit and I don’t go back. Other groups, I just keep showing up but I stay quiet . . you know, letting them get used to my “smell,” LOL.

Most of the time, I fit right in. It doesn’t take that long. Every now and then I run into a cat who doesn’t appreciate my presence, and I have to make a decision. Usually it is a bully-cat who can sniff our my independence and irreverence in spite of my deferential behavior; sometimes I will stick around, sometimes I back away. You’re not going to change a bully-cat, and I am not one for a cat-fight. The bully-cats often do themselves in and implode.

This woman was busy imploding.

My generally enthusiastic group was quiet when they got back on the bus, and I let them be. I really didn’t want to deal with this meeting, either.

The next day, we all talked. I asked what they had learned from the meeting and one diplomat, the most outspoken, said “Learned nothing! She talked and talked and talked (she was doing that hand thing that means a person is talking and talking) and she never answered a single question!”

A second diplomat laughed and said “Like a diplomat, only we are better at it” and everyone laughed.

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August 28, 2014 - Posted by | Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Moving, Pensacola, Political Issues, Transparency, Work Related Issues

7 Comments »

  1. lol I love what that second diplomat said! witty šŸ™‚

    I think it’s very interesting how you’ve learned to adapt to different groups and the lessons you took from it. Like you, I’ve had to deal with being moved around and placed in the midst of new environments and new groups very often. I’ve found that as people get older things really change. When I was a teenager, people were scared of the bullies and did everything to appease them. But once out of college I’ve noticed things changed a lot in terms of how people reacted to bullying behaviour – the bullies were themselves turned into underdogs because soon enough they get almost everyone to hate them.

    I think it was very nice of you to not react to that woman’s subtle hostility. (BTW I don’t understand why she would show off about being in a place her whole life. I mean that’s mostly an accident of birth, isn’t it?) I have to say I would have preferred it if you had subtly and with pretend dumbness insisted that she answered some of the harder question and then watched her squirm. She would have known then that she just messed with the wrong cat šŸ™‚

    Comment by Razan | August 29, 2014 | Reply

    • LOL, Razan! I’m a wary cat! And my job is to facilitate, not to draw attention. It was a great group and every other appointment we had was stellar. She was just off-balance, as I said, over her head. And I forgot, I had asked her to explain a term she used when she said Florida was “going purple because of all these newcomers.”

      Comment by intlxpatr | August 29, 2014 | Reply

      • oh … well? how did she explain it?

        Comment by Razan | August 31, 2014

      • Essentially, she said everyone “from around here” votes republican, but because of all the immigrants, northerners retiring here and people who don’t know any better, there has been an increase in democrat voters.

        Comment by intlxpatr | August 31, 2014

  2. Haha….”people who don’t know any better”! I made myself the new cat upon our return to our home of 30+ years after a 7 year absence, and it took a loooong time for me to venture out with the old cats. Results have been variable. I find I fit in best with other new cats!

    Comment by Grammy | August 31, 2014 | Reply

  3. So, was it the same in Kuwait? Is it easier to make friends with other new cats? Or old cats? or Local cats? šŸ™‚

    Comment by chirp | September 1, 2014 | Reply

  4. Grammy, you’ve been so much on my mind recently . . . and I am thinking a mid-winter trip to Augusta is just the thing, so some of us expat cats can get together and share our progress. šŸ™‚ The Augusta cat is just moving in to her new house šŸ™‚

    Chirp – Those are GREAT questions. And the answer is – going anyplace new is the same. If you read Grammy’s comment, even going back to your own country, even to your old home, the expat experience changes you, and you ‘smell different.’ You have to start over, even in your own habitat. Didn’t you find the same true when you returned? The old box grows a little tight, and you have to find a new way to exist?

    There are wonderful surprises. The first thing you learn is never stereotype. There are other expat ‘cats’ who will make you crazy. There are locals you will never meet because they want nothing to do with you. And then, you start connecting, and when it happens, it can be another expat, or a local, it happens with a small conversation where you have something small but important in common, and as you spend time together, the conversations grow, and a friendship is born. We find we have more in common than we have differences. For me, Kuwait was rich in friendships, and I still miss Kuwait and the fine people I met there. šŸ™‚ Many were expats married to locals, some were locals. It was a grand mix, Kuwait.

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 1, 2014 | Reply


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