One of the few genuinely good things about being on the road for work is that my travels often take me to places where we have friends. Last week I had the good fortune to be able to visit with two sets of friends from bygone eras.
In Phoenix, I met up with friends I’ve known since my Uni days in Scotland, and who were also stationed out in Singapore for much of the time Mark and I were there. In Ottawa, I stayed with my friend Liz, who I’ve known since we attended high school together in Geneva. It’s a bizarre mixing of worlds, meeting up on a whole other continent from our original circumstances, older and somewhat wiser, reminiscing about those good old days.
As an out-of-place Texan-born, British-raised and Swiss-bred teenager, I tumbled out into the post-high school world and into studentdom at Edinburgh University with no true fixed point of identity. I sounded sort of English, but hadn’t lived there since I was 5. I wasn’t Swiss, although I’d spent the last 6 years in Geneva. I didn’t sound Scottish, despite having already put in 6 years in Glasgow. I was…a bit lost. Most of the time, the only people who I think really understand what this fuzzy identity is like are the people who I knew during my time in Geneva, and my time in Singapore.
I loved living in both Geneva and in Singapore, and part of the reason I think I felt so comfortable in those environments was that for the first time, many of the people I interacted with were in the same boat as me. We were from somewhere else. We spoke a jumbled mess of accents. We craved odd foods from somewhere (or several somewheres) we called “back home”. We were comfortable living out of a suitcase and kept our passports close at hand. We liked beer. Ok, so that last point isn’t really directly relevant. But it’s still true.
I’ve been in Texas for 5 years now. I like Austin a lot. It is my home. And yet, I still don’t quite fit in, and I probably never will. I think I’ll always have a mostly English accent, although my accent still sways gently in the breeze depending on who I’m talking with.
I’ll never really know how to answer people when they ask “So, where are you from?” because…where am I from? If I say I’m from Austin, the response is usually “Yes, but where are you from originally?”. I could answer “I was born in Houston”, but that’s just asking for more nosiness. So I usually just answer that my family is originally from Northamptonshire, which is true, but has almost no bearing on my upbringing, since I only spent a year there when I was about 5 years old.
I’m not properly Scottish, despite living there for 11 years in total, and holding fast to an abiding love for Edinburgh. I’m not Swiss or French, although part of my soul resides in the mountains of Chamonix. I’m not Singaporean, although I like to think I can eat like one. I’m not Australian – not yet anway – although I’m married to one. I am American, and I am British, in as much as that is what is says on the front of my current passports. But really? Who knows. And who really cares? Probably no one. Including me. I was just….thinking.