On being abroad

“My socks don’t match, you say? My trousers are too bright? Or too short? My haircut unfashionable? My shoes – too fusty? Nonsense! It is quite the fashion where I’m from…don’t you know?”-

me, living overseas, all the time.

The problem with living in your country of birth is that you immediately find yourself both being placed and placing others on a social scale. Accents, dress-sense, job, car, choice of hot beverage…all these factors combine to form an overall assessment of your being, and you in turn subconsciously rank, judge and compare everyone you encounter. Don’t pretend otherwise.

Well, see, you can’t easily do that overseas. If they’re speaking Spanish, everyone sounds basically the same to me – be they the President or the guy fixing the washing machine. I miss all but the crudest differences in accent and pronounciation, and all my effort is channelled into trying to understand what they’re saying rather than to their personal attributes. I assume the same goes for them. They might have an idea of what an Englishman looks like, but it’s vanishingly unlikely that they know enough to compare me with them. I am simply Meester Eenglish to them – and any eye-rolling is simply a reflection of their general impressions of my compatriots en masse, rather than relating to me personally.

This is liberating in its own way. People have no specific expectations of what I should be like, other than ones which I can safely discard as comic stereotypes. Nobody knows whether people like me drive cars like this or that, or go to this restaurant or that. I get to move through this foreign society largely immune from local snobberies – I can eat where I like, shop where I like, and socialise with whoever I jolly well choose.

And better yet, it can also be applied in reverse. Have I seen *insert topical UK cultural reference point here*? Why no, for I have been overseas for some time, you see. Only that, rather than my wholesale lack of cool-ness, has prevented me from keeping pace with the zeitgeist. My clothes? Well they’re from overseas too. And my haircut. Very fashionable where I live…

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