Global Nomads and TCKS- 12: America: To love and to hate

Here is a bit of hemming and hawing about what I love and don’t love about my country:

It is strange. The things I love about my country are the very things I hate. I love the rawness of the American spirit and I hate its crudeness. I love Ameri­can boldness and I despise its brashness. I love Twinkies and Ripples chips and Oreos—they reflect a special brand of American brilliance-and I also hate their aftertaste. I love the American passion for independence and yet I hate the way it dissolves to selfishness. I hate American sloppiness but I love dressing casually in cut-offs and a T-shirt and being able to go to a restaurant that way if I want. I adore the extravagance in any direction that is possible in the U.S., but I despise the rampant materialism. I love the direct look in an American’s eye, and I love the basic honesty, but I also hate the lack of style and politeness. I love and I hate the lack of rules for social interaction. I love devil-may-care and I love the perfect centerpiece. I love the egalitarianism, the true story that in America you can rise from rags to riches, that you can be born poor and gain respect. Most of all, I love the sense of possibility that suffuses the air of my country. In America, you can ride over the horizon.

Think of the things you love and the things you dislike about your home coun­try. Lay them out in specifics.

Of Many Lands: Journal of a Traveling Childhood


Global Nomads and TCKS- 11: American generosity


Czeslaw Milosz on America:

All of us yearn for a certain point on the earth where the highest wisdom accessible to humanity dwells, and it is hard to admit that such a point does not exist, that we have to rely only upon ourselves.

Nevertheless, in the fall of 1950 I said farewell to America. That was probably the most painful decision of my life—though none other was permissible. During my four-and-a-half-year stay, I had grown attached to the country and wished it the best. Its overheated civilization may have sometimes irritated me, but at the same time I had never come across so many good people ready to help their neighbor, a trait that could be all the more valued by this newcomer from the outer shadows, where to jump at one’s neighbor’s throat was the rule.

 Native Realm

Global Nomads and TCKS- 10: The pleasure of asking for carrots in another language

I reflect here on the pleasure of speaking another language:

One day I went out marketing with my mother in Tokyo. At each little shop— the butcher’s and the baker’s and the vegetable seller’s—I did the talking, asking for a kilo of carrots or onions, a sack of sugar buns, a pound of Kobe beef, using the Japanese from my summer tutorial. Each time a clerk at a shop responded to my words by loading carrots into a paper cone or tying up buns in paper and colored string, I felt a little dollop of triumph drop through my body.

Do you remember the delight of communicating in a new language? Recollect a time you felt that sense of satisfaction. Or recollect your frustration with having to tackle a new language. Or bring back that time you goofed up in another language or couldn’t understand what was going on around you.

Of Many Lands: Journal of a Traveling Childhood

Global Nomads and TCKS- 9: Love of other cultures


Alice Kaplan on her love of France:

Why do people want to adopt another culture? Because there’s something in their own they don’t like, that doesn’t name them.

French still calls out to me in the most primitive way. If I’m in a crowded room and there are two people speaking French all the way on the other side of the room, I’ll hear, loud as day, as though a friend were calling my name. My ears prick up. I become all ears, hearing every word, notic­ing the words I don’t know or haven’t heard for a while and remembering when I last heard them. I’ll eavesdrop shame­lessly, my attention now completely on that conversation, as if I belong in it; I’ll start trying to figure out how to get in on it.

 French Lessons: A Memoir

Global Nomads and TCKS- 8: Foreign countries are in us


Czeslaw Milosz notes that places now left behind are nevertheless imprinted on a child’s psyche:

 Knowledge does not have to be conscious. It is incredible how much of the aura of a country can penetrate a child.  Stronger than thought is an image—of dry leaves on a path, of twilight, of a heavy sky. In the park, revolutionary patrols whistled back and forth to each other. The Volga was the color of black lead. I carried away forever the impression of concealed terror, of inexpressible dialogues confided in a whisper or a wink of the eye. The mansion waited resignedly for the promised murder of all its inhabitants, a murder that, presumably, would not have spared the fugitives. And among those refugees, who were there by chance, fear was rampant. I also carried away the image of Orthodox church cupolas seen against a bluish-red sky with flocks of circling jackdaws, the paving of Rjev’s streets, on which a passing cart would leave a fine trail of seeds from a torn sack, and the shrieks of fur-capped children as they launched their kites.

 Native Realm

Global Nomads and TCKS- 7: The love of homes abroad

Here is a passage from my writing guide for global nomads, Of Many Lands: Journal of a Traveling Childhood:

 Holland is for me what childhood should be: freedom, bikes, canals, fields. The brick row house in downtown The Hague where I spent the five middle years of my childhood was the best home I ever had. To think of its big, leaky bedrooms with fireplaces, its ballroom-size bathrooms, its furniture-stuffed attics is to bring me a sensation of sleepy protectedness. A canopy that holds fast even under drumming rain. That home had for me what Patricia Hampl, the memoirist, calls “the radiance of the past,” for it was home the way it is when you are young: the home your parents give you.

Bring to mind the homes of your childhood.  When you think of those houses, which of them glow?  Describe one of them, being sure to incorporate concrete details, and using all your senses.

Global Nomads and TCKS- 6: The difficulty of fitting in at new schools


Edward Said on the global nomad’s struggle to fit into a new school:

It was as an American businessman’s son who hadn’t the slightest feeling of being American that I entered the Cairo School for American Children (CSAC) in the fall of 1946, the first day made easier by the fact that the Greek bus driver who picked me up early on a sunny October morning in Zamalek and drove me with a lot of totally unfamiliar, loud, unself-conscious American children in gaily colored shirts, skirts, and shorts was a driver at my Auntie Melia’s college. He recognized me at once and always treated me—as no one did—with deferential, if familiar, courtesy. I had never seen such an assortment, or concentration, of Americans before. Gone were the uniforms and subdued, conspiratorial whispers of the GPS’s English mostly Levantine children; gone too were English names like Dickie, Derek, and Jeremy, as well as Franco-Arab names like Micheline, Nadia, or Vivette. Now there were Marlese, Marlene, Annekje, several Marjies, Nancy, Ernst, Chuck, and lots of Bobs. No one paid any attention to me.

 “Edward Sigheed” did pass muster, and I was soon able in some way to belong, but every morning when I stepped on the bus I felt a seething panic when I saw the colored T-shirts, striped socks, and loafers they all wore, while I was in my primly correct gray shorts, dress white shirt, and conventionally European lace-ups. For the class I’d settle my inner consternation into an efficient, albeit provisional, identity, that of bright, yet often wayward, pupil. Then at lunch, as they unwrapped the same neatly cut white-bread sandwiches of peanut butter and jelly—neither of which I had ever tasted—and I my more interesting cheese and prosciutto in Shami bread, I fell back into doubt and shame that I, an American child, ate a different food, which no one asked to taste, nor asked me to explain.

 Out of Place: A Memoir

Global Nomads and TCKS- 5: Split loyalties


Andre Aciman’s Aunt Flora on the split loyalty of being from two places:

 “Even today, I continue to live my life that way.  I cross the street on the slant, I always sit in the side rows at concert halls, am a citizen of two countries but I live in neither, and I never look people in the eye,” she said, as I, conscious of her effort to do so now, averted my own.  “I’m honest with no one, though I’ve never lied.  I’ve given far less than I’ve taken, though I’m always left with nothing.  I don’t even think I know who I am, I know myself the way I might know my neighbor: from across the street.  When I’m here, I long to be there; when I was there I longed to be here,” she said, referring to her years in Alexandria.

 Out of Egypt: A Memoir

Global Nomads and TCKS- 4: Multiple experiences and multiple selves


Milosz writes of one of the global nomad’s particular challenges: the problem of integrating multiple sense impressions and selves, and of having no sturdy culture against which to shape oneself:

 My own case is enough to verify how much of an effort it takes to absorb contradictory traditions, norms, and an overabundance of impressions, and to put them into some kind of order.  The things that surround us in childhood need no justification, they are self-evident.  If, however, they whirl about like particles in a kaleidoscope, ceaselessly changing position, it takes no small amount of energy simply to  plant one’s feet on solid ground without falling.

What then is ordinary? Films and books or some other reality entirely? War or peace? The past or the present? An old-time custom or a parade with red banners? This chauvinist point of view or that? Doubtless, in order to construct a form one needs a certain number of widely accepted certainties, some kind of background of conformity to rebel against, which none­theless generates a framework that is stronger than conscious­ness. Where I grew up, there was no uniform gesture, no social code, no clear rules for behavior at table. Practically every person I met was different, not because of his own special self, but as a representative of some group, class, or nation. One lived in the twentieth century, another in the nineteenth, a third in the fourteenth. When I reached adolescence, I car­ried inside me a museum of mobile and grimacing images: blood-smeared Seryozha, a sailor with a dagger, commissars in leather jackets, Lena, a German sergeant directing an orchestra, Lithuanian riflemen from paramilitary units, and these were mingled with a throng of peasants—smugglers and hunters, Mary Pickford, Alaskan fur trappers, and my drawing instructor. Modern civilization, it is said, creates uniform boredom and destroys individuality. If so, then this is one sickness I had been spared.

 Native Realm

Global Nomads and TCKS- 3: Temporariness


Czeslaw Milosz on the mobile life:

Throughout all my early childhood, rivers, towns and land­scapes followed one another at great speed. My father was mobilized to build roads and bridges for the Russian Army, and we accompanied him, traveling just back of the battle zone, leading a nomadic life, never halting longer than a few months. Our home was often a covered wagon, sometimes an army railroad car with a samovar on the floor, which used to tip over when the train started up suddenly. Such a lack of stability, the unconscious feeling that everything is tempo­rary, cannot but affect, it seems to me, our mature judgments, and it can be the reason for taking governments and political systems lightly. History becomes fluid because it is equated with ceaseless wandering.

 Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition