Being a foreigner

world map

The word “foreigner” is not so often used in my state in the U.S., or at least in my part of the state, or by me. Where I live it is a melting pot with people of all types of backgrounds, many recently arrived, but still seeming like members of the community. If there are people who have prejudice against some foreigners where I live, I am not aware of them. Well, I’m sure some exist, but they don’t speak about it publicly that often. I know that they were more prevalent in the past. My own grandparents expressed some prejudice, but not really my parents. I’m glad that I was taught by more open-minded people. I’m also glad I was exposed to a larger variety of people than were present in my childhood town in the early through mid 1900s.

I traveled and even briefly lived abroad a lot in my youth, but I rarely experienced any negative treatment or responses. I’m sure being a white woman played a role in that.  Unfortunately it was probably a little different for those of other races. Well, let me not speak too soon. I remember traveling to Ireland (even another English-speaking country) and I politely asked an old man for directions. He didn’t give me the time of day, and just walked on with a scowl on his face. Was it because I clearly had a foreign accent? Maybe because he didn’t like 20 something year olds asking him questions? Just him? I don’t know. I do know that some people traveling to certain countries and only speaking the non-native language has yielded negative reactions, especially if the delivery was off.

I once inhabited a U.S. state far from my home state. I learned that even being within the same country you can feel out of place. The culture on the west coast is slightly different than that of the east (or specifically Mid-Atlantic States). I guess even being a country or small town girl moving to a bigger city can feel a bit uncomfortable. You’re not exactly a foreigner, but you’re definitely not a local.

I have lived most of my life in the same state, almost half of the time with my husband who happens to have been born and raised in Europe. Obviously we grew up with some different traditions, and different cultural norms, but he certainly feels like family, and over the years has turned into a bona fide New Jerseyan. Now we are contemplating a possible permanent move to Europe in the future. The difference is that he was in his 20s when he first came to New Jersey. Both of us are now middle-aged.

If we move to Europe, I do feel that I will be “the foreigner” or “the American”. Maybe hubby will too, unless we move to his native country. Even there, he may seem changed after all of these years. I wonder how it would affect me to feel like a foreigner possibly for the rest of my life. His native country is not much of a melting pot at all. Some others are to a degree, but not in some towns and villages. I would eventually want the comfort of feeling like part of the community. Who knows, maybe over time I could be, at least to a degree. If I moved to my husband’s country, I’d want town folks to call me “Mrs. hubby’s family name”, not “Mr. hubby’s family name’s American wife”.

French to English dictionaryLearning (or drastically improving) new language skills at my age to settle abroad would be very stressful. Probably the cultural adjustment, at least for me, would be, too. This worries me a bit. Basic tasks might be a lot harder to handle. Making friends might be harder, especially if I live far from American expats.  But there could be some very major advantages to such a move. I know that immigrants coming to the United States probably feel all of these same ways. What I can say is that thinking about this makes me recognize immigrants’ courage all the more.

If you have ever relocated to another country permanently or for a long period, can you give me some advice on how to adjust to the change? Certainly I’ll share this type of advice someday if/when I make such a move, and hopefully adjust.

8 thoughts on “Being a foreigner

  1. zlotybaby August 25, 2017 / 8:27 pm

    I think if you guys move to an English speaking country, you wouldn’t feel to much like a foreigner. The language is a big part of how difficult it is to adapt. I lived in Tunisia for a bit and it was tough. A lot of people speak French well there so I could get around but people had a preference to speak their native language most of the time and I felt very alienated.

    Moving abroad for good is tough, but it’s a rewarding experience. I’d recommend a big city, though. In my experience abroad being able to connect with other expats was crucial. You should also try to get involved with local community, doing whatever you’re passionate about. These days there are many ways of making friends online and finding good activities. If you decide to move, I’ll gladly share websites for that with you. Unfortunately, you’ll always be a foreigner and people will point it out. It’s a part of your life story that you’re not from there and you should try to cherish it. The sooner you embrace it, the better. Hope you’ve found some of what I said helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight August 25, 2017 / 8:46 pm

      Thanks so much, zlotybaby. If we do move abroad, it will likely not be an English-speaking country, although at least many people, except for many the older folks, do speak English in Europe.

      I doubt that if we move to Europe that we will be able to afford to live in a big city, but hopefully not too far from one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • zlotybaby August 26, 2017 / 5:51 am

        Scandinavian countries are a great choice to move to, Englishwise. It is true that people speak English in most of Europe but they’re likely to change to their native language quickly during informal meetings. The solution is learning the language fluently, which can be done, if you’re motivated.

        I see. Will you at least be moving for a job? That’s another thing that can make making friends easier.


  2. Karin, theaustriandish August 26, 2017 / 7:57 am

    It really depends in which country you plan to move. If it’s Scandinavian, you will have no problems in regard to language or customs. I suppose it’s the same with Germany and Austria. At least in Vienna (where I live) is a big community of US Americans, and I suppose it’s not much different in other countries. And all the younger people speak English, because of Internet and traveling.

    As it comes to living costs, it’s the same. Scandinavia is extremely expensive, Germany is quite cheap. In a lot of European countries the rent for apartments is regulated by law, so living is affordable also in cities.

    The most important, but also the most difficult point is to make friends. A friend of mine moved with her family to US only a few weeks ago. And she says it’s definitely the most difficult thing: to meet new people. But if you already have family in the country you plan to move, you have a big advantage and I’m sure that will work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight August 26, 2017 / 8:48 am

      We’re thinking mostly about Czech Republic, because my husband is a Czech. The language would be very difficult for me to learn, though. He is obviously fluent. We do have close family there (sister and nephews) and my husband has many old friends in Prague, but he has in mind to live in a village or small town.

      We are also considering France, but though I love France it doesn’t have the family or friends. The language would be easier to learn, though. Both my hubby and I do have some French knowledge.

      I do worry about being able to make friends.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Karin, theaustriandish August 26, 2017 / 9:31 am

        Yes, Czech is definitely difficult to learn. But with family-members there you will find a lot of support. And as far as I know, at least in Prague live a lot of US Americans.
        Whenever I was in Czech Republic, I found the people there very welcoming and friendly, and they were delighted when I only tried to speak Czech…

        Liked by 1 person

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