Sunday, February 16, 2014

Day 16: Interpretation of a Quote

It's Sunday.  That means yet another interpretation of a quote selected by C. in Oz of In an Opal Hearted Country.

"It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures.  
Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same."
- Sarah Turnbull

Sarah Turnbull is Australian, specifically a Sydneysider.  She had a career as a TV journalist in Sydney before moving to Paris in 1994.  After living in France for about 10 years, she moved to an island near Tahiti for a few years.  And finally, she came back to Sydney.  So I suppose you can say that she knows of what she speaks.

After finding only this short blurb about her on Google, I went to Amazon to find out more about what she's published.  I could only find two books.  Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris and All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti: Life and Longing.  I actually bought Almost French.  The reviews were good and I'm very interested in her experience.  I'll let you know.

So anyhoo, the quote is from Almost French.  Obviously, I haven't read the book yet so I'm not sure of the context, but I can relate to the basic premise of what she's speaking about.

Sydney's "culture" is really an amalgamation of so many vastly unique cultures.  There are people here from China, Japan, Korea, Bangladesh, India, England, Ireland, Spain, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Canada, America and New Zealand, not to mention the indigenous Aboriginal natives of Australia.  All I know is that there are so many cultures here, I'm bound to be leaving many out.

America calls itself a melting pot.  Okay.  I used to think that there were so many different nationalities represented in California.  I know now what it really means to be a "melting pot."  Sydney is so much more diverse than anything I've ever experienced in the States.  And I think I'm a better person for having lived here.  That part of my "education" I could never regret.

I've found that by living here I'm infinitely more curious about other people.  I find myself wanting to know their stories instead of making one up in my head.  I'm more cognizant of the fact that each person is unique.  And the thing is ... Sydney (and perhaps Australia in general) seems to want to recognize each culture and embrace their differences.  America seems more interested in making everyone American.  And hey, nothing wrong with that.  It's just a different feel.

And I'm not sure what it would be like if Mr. Smith and I ever went back.  Would Americans feel like we were in some way superior because of our travels?  I would hope not.  And I don't want to be one of those people.  But I am worried about trying to fit in.  I don't really feel fully accepted in Australia and I'm afraid I would no longer be accepted in my native country either.

I do know that I see things that friends and family post on Facebook and it makes me cringe inside.  I don't want to say anything because I don't want anyone to think I'm being "uppity."  But am I really the only one who thinks about how it might be interpreted before posting it?  You shouldn't have to be an expat to realize that something can be hurtful.

I suppose I should just focus on one day at a time and take the challenges as they come instead of borrowing trouble before it presents itself.


  1. I love both of Sarah Turnbull's books and highly recommend them! I also heard her speak and met her afterwards, and found her very down to earth. I liked All Good Things the best, but both books are good. I found it fascinating as an American to read her Australian impressions of moving to Paris, then to Tahiti, and finally back to Australia.

    1. I'm looking forward to reading Almost French. I'm going to start it tonight. I like hearing from others who have already read it. I wasn't sure about the second book because a lot of people commented that the book seemed to be more about her issues with IVF and not so much about travels as in the first book. We'll see. Maybe I'll get the second one, too. :)

    2. That's a fair comment about the second one---I thought she handled the topic well, but it's true that she is more introspective the second time around. I think I liked it better partly because she had caught up closer to my age range in All Good Things, and also because you get to read about her impressions of Australia after living away from it for a decade.

  2. "I do know that I see things that friends and family post on Facebook and it makes me cringe inside." - I experience this often as well. I'm not sure if you're from a small town, but I am, and if you were to say something people generally don't take it well. Just have to hope they experience something that makes them have that "oh, right" moment. I've had plenty of those, where I look back at things I've said and been a bit embarrassed but glad I learned better.

  3. I was just saying to my husband that I worried about people at home thinking that I'm "uppity" because of my travels when we eventually go back. Hopefully not, but I know things at home are going to annoy me, too. Never thought of going home being hard when we moved here.

  4. I think people assume we're uppity and I'm not, I've just seen other stuff. But I really don't want my kids to be perceived like that- I can imagine them being in history class and being all, "I've see the pyramids, yep, we swam in the Dead Sea," and other such obnoxious truths.

  5. I feel the opposite at times, like I'm the one that feels uppity for having traveled. Traveling opens your eyes to the world and when I meet people that have never left their state, much less the country, their ignorance stands out so much. For instance, today I saw a video in which a woman affirmed that the US has the greatest health care system in the world (pre-Obamacare) and I just thought, oh, honey, no, not really. There's a certain anti-intellectual current, but expats shouldn't feel ashamed or embarrassed of their life experiences.