Thursday, December 02, 2010

identity and other mysteries

identity is a funny thing. sometimes you don't actually know what it is until you don't have it anymore. take our child, for example. she considers herself a sjælland girl (the big island where copenhagen is located and more or less affectionately called the devil's island if you're in jutland). she's strongly and solidly sjælland girl, but never professed this until we moved her to jylland. anyone who's spent any time in an ex-pat community knows that nothing breeds patriotism like displacement.

i never identified myself as an american until i was 27 years old and in russia for the first time. before that, my identity was my state, my hometown, perhaps my family, my university, but never my country - but when you're actually IN a place, and OF that place, it seems you have less of a need to call yourself by its name (or at least that was true before sept. 11, 2001 - but i'm not going to go there at the moment).

ever since that first experience abroad, i have to admit that whenever i've been abroad, i've been wary of the ex-pats, as they always seem a waspish bunch. not in the terms of the bush clan sense of WASPs (as in white anglo-saxton protestants), but of actual stinging and nasty and generally-to-be-avoided. i've found them generally condescending towards the locals and more nationalistic than usual.

there's something in us that paradoxically wants very much to belong where we are, but also does not, which wants to be special and other. part of the not wanting to belong is a defense mechanism, we reject them before they can reject us.

i think this whole phenomenon isn't just limited to national cultures, but sub-cultures, like a company culture, for example. do you identify yourself with the company? do you feel proud to see your company's name and products when you're out there in the world? do you want to identify with that logo and brand or not? i think in the past, i've wholeheartedly given myself over to the company culture, even when i accidentally worked for microsoft (sorry, mr. jobs). but i find myself holding back now, wanting to preserve myself for myself and actively resisting. why is that? what is it about certain groups that makes us want to identify more than others? identity is a mysterious thing.


Kathryn Dyche said...

Having moved from the UK to the US I can totally relate to this post. I most strongly identify with being welsh but after having one foot in two countries sometimes it feels like I don't truly belong in either.

Elizabeth said...

Hmm,this is kinda weird. Never took a steady job because I didn't wanna be married with random people. Moved so many times and now living in Denmark I started to call my Dutch girl. Not because I think the Netherlands are so great but to make the difference clear between myself and the others. Conclusion: Let me think about this a bit longer.

Numinosity said...

What a thought provoking post!

When I've been traveling abroad I was always careful to say I was from Alaska which distinguished me from other Americans. It seems a place of it's own. Now that I live there only half of the year I feel that it's still part of my identity because of over 30 years of "paying my dues" enduring many winters.

But then I was born in Maine which is quite a part of me as well that I'm quite proud of.

It even goes down to personal identity or persona.
Even though at one time I was a heavy equipment operator it's a persona I had a hard time letting go because it was hearty and powerful to me.

Now I am embracing the artist persona and letting the truck driver although I always seem to like bringing it up due to the contrast to my current life.

I agree that the with bit of experience I've had with expats seem to be that of their bitterness and complaints and insular nature. (That and a lot of alcohol consumption)

thanks for your post, now that I'm back on high speed internet I'm getting around to the blogs better again.

xoxo Kim

Char said...

very mysterious and we have so many labels

kristina said...

as char said, we have so many labels, and which we use depends on what situation we're in. when I'm abroad I feel swedish; when I'm in sweden I feel skånsk; when I meet catpeople I most definitely feel like a dogperson ;-)

Anonymous said...

I find that the older I get, the more I resist fully identifying with anything other myself...

The Queens Table said...

Some have a need to be tribal about things ...and some of us do not...In my mind I am just a spirit at any given moment here... having a human experience.

Book of Ruth said...

Identity is a tricky we define ourselves through our heritage, choices, employment and location...and how it connects with the way others define us.

There something about definition that grates on my soul, and yet. I want it and need it to balance myself.

stephanie said...

I find that with my work, even though I love the people I work for, I don't want to give the parts of me that I think are important over to people that don't appreciate them. I share certain parts of myself only with people that truly understand, appreciate and cherish those bits. No matter who I work for, or how much we like each other, it's still a job, it's business. I can't expect them to appreciate all the parts of me that I think are important. So by living what I have come to see as 2 separate lives (my work life and my real life) I give what I feel my work deserves and I save the other parts for what I think my family, friends and I deserve.

I have no idea if that makes sense outside of my head, but maybe it does. :)

d smith kaich jones said...

i had to laugh. cause i'm a texan, and we tend to say that a lot. we are annoying about it, arrogant about it, we love that people think we're barbarians and hicks cause we know we're not, and we just egg on the stereotype, the myth. a distant never-a-texan cousin sent me an email the other day - he lives in the philippines somewhere - with a link to some academic paper re: what texas looks like to those not living here. i couldn't stop laughing. as if we care i wrote him back.

:) Debi