Identity Crisis – Column June 27th, 2011

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I am highly suspicious of “isms”. To me, any system of belief that needs to be swallowed whole is unacceptable, and the constantly shifting sands of my conceptions and convictions make it impossible for me to entirely embrace any “ism”.

And so I reject doctrines such as socialism (it worked at University to get girls but it doesn’t work it the real world), optimism (it also doesn’t work in the real world), nudism (except on Saturday nights), cannibalism (speaking of swallowing something whole) and – especially – patriotism. A lot of the evil that has been done throughout history has been perpetrated in the name of patriotism.

As a general rule, I seldom admit publicly what’s stated on the outside of my passport: I hail from the land of big guns and Big Gulps, the place that has given the world gifts such as the Declaration of Independence, the “Thong Song” and chocolate chip pancakes wrapped around a sausage on a stick. Being American is my dirty little secret.

One time at a nightclub here a friendly local Chinese guy asked me: “Where are you from?” And I, in a lame attempt at bar-room humour, replied: “My mom.”

I guess he must have misheard me – perhaps due to the blaring music or his shaky English skills – because he exclaimed: “Iran! That’s cool! I’m from Malaysia!”

I was happy to let the misunderstanding stand.

Living in Malaysia, though, I actually feel American quite often. This patriotic sensation hits me in the gut at the oddest times, sometimes like a wave of nausea and other times like a slight cramp.

Last week, while attending the official Royal Wedding festivities hosted by the British High Commission at a local hotel, I felt almost sickly nationalistic. The sight of those silly, precariously-balanced hats, the tassel- and medallion-laden military uniforms and all the pomp and circumstance of the wedding ceremony really got my Yankee juices flowing.

As an expat, I am constantly being made aware of my nationality and am often defined by my citizenship.


When I meet someone, the first question I am invariably asked is – just as in the night club by that Chinese chap – “Where are you from?” and after that I am pigeonholed as the “bald eagle”, so to speak.

I am also conscious of my American-ness everyday at work, as I slave away for a (benevolent) British boss (so much for the States gaining its independence over 200 years ago) and am surrounded by a motley crew of expats from around the globe.

Incidents like protests outside the US embassy, a new Starbucks opening across from two other Starbucks in a shopping mall, and Hill Clint poppin’ in town for a pow wow also arouse my dormant nationalism.

The irony is that, after living seven years in roti land, nothing makes me feel more un-American than going home. Truth be told, I am a foreigner in my own country – out of touch with the zeitgeist of the US with its bulging waistlines and budget deficits.

Like Tarzan returning to civilization, the culture, the lifestyle and the way that red-blooded Americans act and interact seem so exotic to me now. I only feel at home abroad. Maybe this is the fate of the long-term expat.

I guess I’m a bit of a rebel, always stubbornly defining myself in opposition to others around me (and this nonconformism is – at least in the spirit of my revolutionary forefathers – profoundly American).

But after living for so long so far from my home country, I have come to consider myself a sort of “citizen of the world”.

In the end, though, I guess I can’t run away from the fact that, as Bruce Springsteen said, “I was born in the UAE”… errr, or something like that.


Source: The Expat June 2011 Issue


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