18 October 2011

The whole world is in Cardiff

One of the unexpected happy quirks of my new life in Cardiff has been an almost instantaneous deep saturation of International.
I imagined I'd be hobnobbing with the Brits here, and I've done a bit of that, but what I didn't expect is to be a part of a widespread and varied community of internationals.  Most of my human interaction, apart from cashiers and school administration, has been with other expats.  For instance:

My main professor/academic adviser is Australian
I have 4 Chinese housemates, 1 Hong Kongian (is that a word? I think she'd appreciate it), 1 Kenyan, and 1 Pakistani
One Saturday, I went to Ikea with 13 Hong Kongians
Another Saturday, I went to Llancaiach Fawr with about 20 Chinese, a Nigerian, a Bulgarian, a few Englishmen/women, and a Welshman
This week, I attended a Bible study with 2 Brits, a Slovakian, and a Chinese
On Fridays, I go to an "International Cafe" where I've met and hung out with people from France, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, China, Slovakia, Ukraine, Nigeria, and Britain

a typical Welsh field by Llancaiach Fawr
Parts of suddenly belonging to an international community were very accidental, such as with my housemates, or meeting so many postgraduate students from China and India (they're all getting MBAs).  But in general I've found myself gravitating to expats and expat-targeted activities.  I think this is because we're all in the same boat (something I wouldn't be able to say around them, because they might not get the idiom), or a similar one at least.  Perhaps also, when you've already been thrown upon a new culture - not that Britain is so different from America - you feel open and thirsty for more new culture.  Well heck, my traditions and cultural mores are already on their heads, so it's not too much of a stretch to delve deeper into the intricacies of human behavior and its variegation across the earth.  I love conversations that go, "We do it like this in my country; what do you do in yours?"  Somehow, being different brings you together.  You find yourself not only wondering why they do it That way in Their country, but why do we do This in Ours?  Suddenly, instead of just learning about someone else's world, you start to learn more about your own.
I often wonder what these expats I meet think of the USA and Americans.  People typically assume I'm British, because I look it, but it doesn't take long for the accent to kick in, and when they ask where I'm from the response usually goes one of two ways.  Either a slightly wide-eyed, ohh, the United States! or a knowing nod, yes of course, the United States.  Like it means something significant to be from the United States.  And then of course they ask me where in the States, but most people don't know where Georgia is.  So when they look confused I say, Do you know where Florida is?  "Oh yes, yes, Florida." "It's right north of there."  "Oh, okay!  So it is very warm and sunny there?"  ".....Sure."
Then, when I tell a Brit I'm from Atlanta, I might get - particularly from the older women - a little sigh, and then they'll say, "Oh, that's a lovely accent;" for any self-respecting Georgian pronounces Atlanta 'Adlanna,' while here they quite carefully say 'At-lahn-tah.'  It makes me wonder what an American accent sounds like.  To me, British accents sound proper, deliberate but in a hurry, and tall; rounded and tumbling if they're Welsh, angular if they're not.
I feel like I should not be considered an international or an expat, because the language here is my native language and I look the same and I come from a culture that functions basically the same.  But I am an expat, because I'm not from here (at least not in the last few hundred years, ancestry is a different story), and when I accidentally give the clerk the wrong coin or fumble with bagging my own groceries, I feel very obviously out of place.  And then, it is very nice to be able to have a cup of tea with a bunch of other expats and laugh about how idioms come out wrong in other languages.

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