When an American in Britain moves to South America (with a British man): a countryless situation.
Posted on August 2, 2010 by peacefulyorkshire
We plan on returning to Yorkshire , my British man (Mr. Chill) and I, but for the next three months are living in South America. My Ph.D. requires field work study that cannot be done on the fair island. Not that I am unhappy about a new adventure! We have packed all of our stuff into an overpriced storage unit in Yorkshire (that shockingly costs as much as our rent in South America) and have made the move.
This is Mr. Chill’s first time living in another place besides England. I can relate wholeheartedly when he misses British things I find true to his nationality (well how can I talk? I missed Swiss Miss cocoa, Fruity Pebbles and Mac and Cheese for goodness sake. Bleh!). Mr, Chill misses the lack of British organisation to keep things running ‘smoothly’. He misses British Leicestershire, Cheshire and Gloucestershire cheeses that are nowhere to be found here and ‘rule following’ people. He misses quality single malt scotch, dark pubs, mega-stores like Tesco and cinemas in English. As for me, after two weeks the Latin-ness in my blood is rejoicing. England? As far away as a dream.
I won’t lie and say I miss being in England. I don’t. It is refreshing to be away from rules of class and feeling like I am insulting people all the time by just being myself. For the first time in a long time my awkwardness in social settings is gone. I don’t miss the dreary grey skies (Mr. Chill does…). I love being able to be out at the weekends and not see drunk people puking and wreaking havoc on the streets. God, I now live in one of the most dangerous South American countries and I feel safer here than I do in Yorkshire on a Saturday night. I like that on average there are 2 protests here a day in the city. I like that because it means people here aren’t complacent and are wanting to be heard. Many care what happens in their often-corrupt government and will not be silent. Having suffered a military coup and then an economic crisis. People don’t seem to have the barriers of polite self-consciousness that I find in England. Directness is always my cuppa anyway so I love this.
But hey, I know that the things I find to be shackles of ‘British living’ come with the package of choosing England. Everything has a price and that is the cost I pay to have the wonderful things there like the great man I have met, a career I have built from nothing , the many friends and lovely family of Mr. Chill’s I have become close to. The clean quiet order of the life I found there.
By contrast, our South American life is not ordered, nor quiet. Where we live now is ripe with poverty on our doorstep while chaotic traffic zooms past. We can’t ignore the hungry. People sleep on our doorstep at night and rummage through our trash at night looking for things to eat or reuse. Packs of dogs roam the streets with no owners to claim them.
When a local asks Where are you from? I answer I am American. But I am not a clear cut woman identified by habits from my birth nation. As if living in England has cleansed me from claiming any nationality outright– and I wouldn’t have realised that until we arrived here. The hardest thing I did not expect is the inability to find a ‘country’ to claim as my cultural identity. Living in Britain I was always ‘the American’. Here, I am not.
And and I certainly don’t feel in anyway British– although the social mores I have learned there stick to me like a rash. Like the unrecognisable reserved nature that has become me when meeting new people, my ability to have patience in lines, my allegiance to the BBC and the way I can just about master the fork in my left hand. I said to myself just this morning, who is this countryless lady that is now me?
But, for now I enjoy my confusion and soak in the rich Latin American culture of my heritage. I will continue to blog as an ex-pat from my new temporary place and —well, just enjoy being myself, countryless lay-deh and all.