Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘eat, pray, love’, in this controversial book of hers, wrote all about the first year after she divorced a rich man that we all dream of or wax lyrical about. Lizzy left this hubby of hers and moved out of her Stepford-wife big house in the burbs and wrote about ‘eat’ing in Italy, ‘pray’ing in India and then falling in ‘love’ in Bali.
This blog has nothing whatsoever to do with that.
But it does have something to do with getting something from the places you live or stay. There was an incy sigh of relief when my friend invited me to join a facebook group, now, let it be noted I don’t just join any group you know. I don’t want to know what Cheryl Cole/Tweedy wore in one of her concerts that shocked people (I am going to venture that it was clothes) and I am not fussed about getting someone to a million fans so their newly pregnant teenage sister will call their firstborn child ‘Burberry’ or 'Fred Perry'. Nooo, this group particularly peaked my interest: ‘Cross cultural kids everywhere’ finally a name for my ‘condition’! You may have read a previous blog about identity and where I am from, well this explains it, I am a Cross cultural kid(ult) Or, more affectionately perhaps, a 'Global nomad'.
Having perused the discussion board on that page I have finally found people like me, yes me (can you believe it??) There was even a discussion thread with the heading: ‘Where are you from? The question that nags us all’. Heck, I may even call this group my home from now on. That said, I never see this cross-cultural ness as a burden, quite the opposite- I am considerably blessed. When I looked at a list of qualities we ‘Global nomads’ possess I found myself practically nodding, putting aside the ‘linguistic ability’ (Spanglish, I am told, does not count) there was ‘maturity’ (quit laughing at the back), a self confidence (not to be confused with arrogance), ‘family closeness’- like how close I am to my sisters Lucy and Linda (or whatever their names are), ‘international orientation’ (and my teacher said it was a good job I wasn’t taking GCSE Geography!), I am not blowing my own trumpet when I say I nodded, rather it is an acceptance of qualities I feel this nomadic lifestyle has awarded me.
I found the discussion board interesting and I am sure I will come back to it. It has always been tough not only explaining where I am from (earth?) but also explaining that my family were born in many different places, no not the back of a Ford Escort or a backalley- Mum was born in Singapore, my sister in Cyprus and my nephew in Germany. Even my mum struggles to say she is from Oldham (where she lived from 3 till she was 18) she has lived away from there far longer than she ever lived there.
What hit me the most was when one of the group members confessed
“I jokingly refer to ‘Starbucks’ as home - I'm 29, have no idea how many addresses I even have or where I would ever call home. Starbucks has been the same in every country that it’s in - and the comfortable chairs and smells have taken a "homey-familiar" smell. (Starbucks became a refuge when I went to college-I don't think I had been to more than two before then :) But yeah - how do you explain?”
This triggered an ‘Aha!’ moment for me (no, not the 80s band). My friend Shazia, who gets ill from Starbucks products, actually said she had never met anyone that loved Starbucks as much as me (all my friends will vouch I have a strange affinity to this loveable- albeit it fairly unattractive-mermaid) Shazia may have said it with an incredulous tone but I wore it like a chav wears an ASBO, with sheer unabashéd pride- it is a badge of honour to me. I mean, heck I am making my wonderful friends, Sandi and Paul LeBlanc, visit the very first Starbucks in Seattle this year- the infamous Pike Place Starbucks (I’d like to add that we are going to Seattle anyway- otherwise that would be ridonkulous) This woman hit the nail on the head, like people gravitate towards Maccy Ds in any country they visit (even if I have made them watch ‘Super size me’- Tvrtko I am talking to you) I gravitate to the familiarity of Starbucks. In a world that has constantly changed for me, Starbucks is familiar, it is my constant- I know the drinks, the staff are always friendly and you can sit with your book and just feel at home no matter the city. I would liken it to a non-nomadic's grandmother’s front room (unless of course for you this implies the smell of denture cream, tinned salmon, madeira cake, the stale stench of talcum powder or vitamins, or indeed- an aversion to saucers)
This is also the same reason I am never a ‘tourist’, yes I have been on red-bus tours in many cities and I have visited a ‘tourist’ office but I am never truly a ‘tourist’, I always walk round a city, or a new place, like I have been there before. I like to think I have a confidence in my step even if I don’t know where (the blooming heck) I am. Plus if you are from nowhere in particular, how can you ever be a tourist? Yes, I do possess city and country guides, that I occasionally consult (hint: download the iphone app for the place you're visiting and it just looks like you’re checking your phone) My advice is to always have a rough idea of where you are going before you set out and, particularly if you are in skyscraper cities, try and avoid the propensity to look up constantly. Walk with purpose and don’t be seen taking tons of photos in crowded places. That last bit of advice is one I seldom take (my mum is convinced that should anything happen to the Washington monument or statue of Liberty, they could be rebuilt using our photographs alone). Learn to be happy with the first photo you take, I have this down to a fine art (*ahem* which I am well aware does seems to contradict my previous sentence).
I have learnt to be content, no actually strike that- self satisfyingly smug, with not being like everyone else. At one point I teetered dangerously close to (sharp intake of breath) ‘fitting in’ somewhere but luckily not long after felt the overwhelming urge to get the heck out of there. I have come to believe that I just wasn't designed to 'fit in', I am fortunate to be able to relate to most people I meet. I once met a girl who was from Oxfordshire, having spent six months there in between moves, I asked “whereabouts?” she replied (slightly too assuredly for my liking) that I wouldn’t (possibly) know it, “try me” I pushed, resignedly she admitted “Wantage”. Yep, ironically, that was the little place I’d lived in and for that six months. We learnt that we were in the same school and she was in the year below me. In these particular situations people either think they’ve met someone they can relate to or a belligerent and pathological liar. Worst case scenario they'd (perhaps rightfully in your case) suspect you'd been stalking them for the past few months.
I have learnt to laugh off being called a ‘gypo’ or a ‘pikey’ (whilst notifying and giving names and addresses to the local funfair-related caravan dwellers) and just accept that mine seems like an unusual lifestyle to people who aren’t from a similarly blesséd background. There were times I longed for somewhere to call ‘home’ (that didn't have chickens living under the floorboards and tin for a roof) but home is just a far out concept to me (you know, like lunar landings and peace in the middle east). I have to answer questions regarding where I call home, where I am from, where my parents are from, whether I am a Southerner or a Northerner and what accent I have (um, English, which may seem unusual to you, what with you being from England un’all) Yes, people pretty much stop short of asking whether the last three generations of my family were true Aryans.
I am a confessed sentimental but as the years go on, I am used to getting rid of stuff and trying not to become too attached to certain things (apart from my thirty something year old ‘tatty teddy’, Johnny).
I feel I have become ‘aware’ of great moments as I recognise that ‘things are fleeting’, that ‘good things really must come to an end’ I've learnt that friends are ‘for a reason, a season or a lifetime’ that ‘absinthe truly does make the heart grow fonder’ (or was it absence?) and that 'you can count your true friends on both thumbs' (or something) . I appreciate that ‘you really never know what is round the next corner’ that, if you allow it, ‘the world can really, yes really, be your lobster (or is it Oyster? I know it's seafood related...). I have realised in the last few years not to take for granted all those amazing times I have with my friends, that you have to make happiness happen and not expect it to just ‘come’ to you. Most importantly, I have realised that you have to ‘Bloom where you’re planted’. I am learning to live in the ‘now’ and I am trying not to always dwell on the past or look to the future for neither of those truly exist (I did say learning…) These are things it has taken years to learn with all my moving, once I had got over initial more pressing concerns like Father Christmas not finding our house, especially as air force issued houses don't have chimneys (mum assured me last year that he knows where I am) or keeping the Easter bunny fully aware of any address changes. (I got my mini eggs Easter egg today-phew!)
Without all my life experiences, my meh-huh-hany addresses (curse you application forms for asking for every address in the last 5 years) the many rooms I have slept in, the many views I have had from my window, the many neighbours I have had, the friends I have made in many places, the schools I have attended, the many jobs I have taken, the times I have stuck out as an alien in another country- like that sales assistant job I took when we emigrated temporarily to Aberdeen, I have realised I truly would not be who I am today- the Louise that you all know and loathe. I used to try and be a wallflower and just fade into a background but I was clearly just not designed that way, no God designed me to be that pestilent weed that you are always trying to use every (dang) product to get rid of.
I like to (delusionally) think I am like Vianne in one of my favourite films ‘Chocolat’(just without Johnny Depp on my arm)- I go where the north wind takes me. What people don’t understand about me is, after a few months/years (read: days) in a place, my feet start to proverbially itch. I wasn’t born to stay put and it is like a beacon goes off and parts of the world ‘call’ me. As I get older I am beginning to finely tune my ears to try and see whether it is a true calling aswell as checking whether it is really the north wind blowing and not just a dodgy air vent.
When I visited New York last year I found a card with this on:
‘Your Journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you’ve encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time’ Asha Tyson
It was like this card was written for me.
So, until I find that global nomadic tribe that have lived in the same places as me, have numerous freckles, medium brown hair, speak ‘received standard English’ and are willing to constantly move to places I want to go- then I will just have to go it alone and remind myself that my journey has molded me for your greater good.