I am living in Spain, but am an American.
We work with the military, but we are not active duty.
It could go on and on….I have older children, while many of my friends have preschoolers. I am older than most of my friends, often by years. My politics are more progressive, and my faith neither Catholic nor Evangelical.
On down days, it’s easy to feel the separation. I’ll sit in a bank, or store, and make my version of small talk. But if somebody makes the grave mistake of asking for directions, or using the past tense, I start blinking and stuttering. Somebody will often step in and say, “Ella no entiendo. Americana.”
There are nods and awkward smiles, and life continues. But I can feel the sliding glass door shut, cutting off the breeze. She’s American. She doesn’t understand.
There’s no maliciousness involved. On the contrary, people, as a whole, are friendly and kind. But it’s a simple fact: she’s not one of us.
I suppose it’s the eternal conundrum of living somewhere else. How much of your regional identity is in your bones? What bends like a willow, and what grips the earth?
There are the easy things—saying “y’all” and “bless your heart” in Maryland, and “vale” and “claro” in Spain. Eating blue crabs or gazpacho, or walking by the Chesapeake or the playa. Habits are simple. You can change these types of behaviors like selecting a new spring coat.
But then, the essence of you–that which endures? Nothing can change that. I will always hesitate before dropping by somebody’s house, and apologize more than necessary. I worry about taking up too much space. I need my books, and the sunshine. I think it’s more important to be kind than to be right.
When I feel separated, I remind myself that I can belong. I can (and I am) learning language, customs, food, and habits.
Yet, there are parts of me that will never change. And that is my gift–to myself, to my family, and to this new land.