Judge me. I say y’all. But I am not Texan. I say wee, and call bad fog over the sea a haar, and say nae bother. But i am not Scottish. I sometimes say danke or Merci instead of thank you. But I am not German or French. I speak in broken Spanish with my husband for fun, but only I have been to Mexico.
I say no worries and lots and heaps and tomahhto and Bazzil and boot and rubbish and footpath, and sunnies, and breaky… Judge me.
I am Australian.
The places we live influence our inflections and patterns of speech. Sometimes by accident, and other times by design. They influence our tastes and our comprehension of world events. They make us realise that the world looks like a different place to each of us. The same world looks like a radically different place. The world is not in fact different, but our environments, experiences, and opportunities influence our perceptions. Sometimes certain phrases or words best encapsulate an experience, and sometimes a dialect is necessary for communication.
People often have trouble placing my accent. Oh, to be sure, it is still largely australian, but there are hints of my travels in there, of the journeys that have take me to live on foreign shores, and this confuses people. South African, they ask? Irish? That’s more because of my complexion I think; English? New Zealander? Swiss? they wonder…
In New Mexico and Arizona, they swear that I am British. In Colorado, the accent is identified more quickly as australian, no doubt because of all the Aussies on the ski fields. In Salt Lake City they asked if I was from New Zealand, in British Columbia they ask if I’m Scottish or from New Zealand. In Texas, they wonder if I am South African or English.
Other Australians sometimes ask if I am American…
So Judge me.
It isn’t about nationality as much as identity. Who am I? I have held onto the label expat now for six years, explored what it means, cried the tears of those who feel distant in more than just miles from family and friends; who feel left out of family events, torn by the desire to be while knowing that the sheer effort required to be there will not be either understood or appreciated. Defensiveness arises easily. It is not a unique experience. I hear the same story over and again from those who have trod a similar path.
There is, I admit, a comfort in being different, in standing out. But there is also a struggle in not being able to speak your own language and an immense relief when you find a conversation partner. You cling sometimes, probably because you know that elsewhere you may not have been such fast friends, but in this place, in this desert of foreignness you are twins, finding your feet together, seeking respite in food, jokes, and childhood memories.
Hurry up, hurry up…..Said in a gruff voice.
Born in the 70s or 80s, or even 90s in Australia or New Zealand and you will know exactly who I am talking about…..the blackboard. It evokes nostalgia, laughter, and a sense of home. Weird, yes, but such shibboleth are inherent to all of our experiences, wherever we are from.
I do not complain about the incredible opportunities I have had to see the world and to live in communities unlike my own – to experience the romance of a summer in Paris, the ceilidhs and tight community of the Kingdom of Fife, the open hospitality and repressed social consciousness of central Texas, and the Wild West of small town New Mexico.
My life now is intertwined with another and my travels are less about my own whims and more about adult things; like careers and family and rest.
Nevertheless, this nomadic life has its challenges. While I believe my wanderlust is ever satisfied, and my adventuring far from done, as with all decisions in life there are costs and they must be counted. To remain rooted in one place, one community, and one dialect has its own reward, to not be so has its cost and an attendant worry that the fabric of family and relationships will be irrevocably harmed by the distance of hearts, minds, and bodies.
Life is not about navel gazing. Life is about being present, loving wholeheartedly and embracing both change and being rooted (whether for a time or for decades). This life of mine is not a pedestrian life, but in that beauty lies a challenge that sometimes feels overwhelming: of never feeling fully home anywhere.
So, yep, judge me.
Ps: He was a blackboard with legs and the artistic medium of Mr Squiggle. a puppet with a pencil for a nose.
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