Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#30 Be American(Stuck in Limbo)

I hate to use the terrible cliché of the Wizard of Oz it is too easy and it is over used, but it applies so well that to not would be forsaking a great story on principle not mention my Kansas heritage.

She must have felt strange in that world totally different from hers. I haven't talked to an American since the second week I've been here and they were old, retirement age old, they might as well have been foreigners. Ones my age, I saw them in Colonia del Sacremento.

However, their tendency to travel in packs with a cacophony of English swirling about them made me wince. I didn't want to talk to them they ruined the tranquility of Colonia. Maybe it is my nature maybe I should have talked to them. However, my rationalization was that these kids (despite being my own age) were being ferried around by chaperones.

They didn't understand how to really see a place. In my mind, they were likely more preoccupied with what bar they would go to that night. I've done that I remember it fondly I'm just a few steps ahead of them. Maybe they could have taught me to open up more, but I let it slip. I left there and found a beautiful beach that I had almost to myself I enjoyed it thoroughly.

We were on two different sides of the same spectrum that hundreds of travelers curse. They the ones that couldn't care a bit for local culture and me, perhaps smugly, hanging only with locals denying my American upbringing. A balance between the two is best, but does anyone ever really achieve this?

The people I've met have been Uruguayan, Argentinian, Spanish, Italian, Irish, French, Canadian, German, but no Americans my age are here or at least I have yet to find them. These people are great and I enjoy hanging out with them a lot. Despite the many similarities among countries Western Culture they don't understand fully. They don't really know about Kansas City or Kansas. When they ask about the weather or how far something is they don't have to do the quick conversion to Celsius or to kilometers. I don't even know if I am right, I just hope I calculated it closely enough.

Americans are stubbornly different from the rest of the world and I am one, or so says my passport. However, I feel more at home outside our country despite the difficulties and living with less I am content maybe even happy. Maybe this will change, maybe I could have been happy in America. However, here it comes with ease there it takes work to be different. Relaxing outside without TV, stressing little, and not being over-worked are parts of life that are just harder to do within American culture. They can be done, but the crowd is not doing that so you swim against the current.

In trying to not deny where I am from I try to allow myself to make mistakes. To anyone on the street I am Uruguayan...until I open my mouth. I become the foreigner. My first bus ride I had no idea where I was going in shaky Spanish I told him "Plaza Matriz". The cashier perched in his seat leaned over to the driver and whispered, "Un extranjero" I was the foreigner.

With my primarily Spanish expat friends the difference is less stark. I can throw out the th-th-th lisp, but even to them I am something foreign. Even the one who was in the desert of Arizona studying for a year. He saw the American highlights, Kansas City and Ames are not on that list. I don't know about Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and very little of Chicago. Just like most foreigners I have only seem them in the movies and on TV.

The people I have met are interesting, fun, and incredibly nice. I'm glad to have met all of them, but nevertheless a gap exists. I like, maybe even love, Uruguay, but I exist in that strange no-man's-land between native and foreigner as well as traveler and expat.

I've only experienced this before in the transition to college from high school. I belonged to both, but was a part of neither. This faded with time...slowly. Tick...tock......tick......tock......


  1. I think, as with everything in life, there's an adjustment period, and you're experiencing it. I've never lived anywhere outside of Uruguay so I can't understand exactly how you feel, but I have travelled and I know what it feels like to be an outsider and a foreigner. It's especially tough when you're from somewhere people have never heard of, or know very little about!

  2. I'm experiencing the same "gaps" you're talking about. Even though I am Uruguayan and I speak Spanish fluently, I am now starting to get used to the city and streets after living outside of Uruguay for so long. I've been through what you're going through right now plenty of times. It will eventually get easier. Remember this (and maybe/hopefully helps): "... Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.” - Harvey MacKay