Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that I grew up in many different countries. Having had such an experience has left me in what I like to call a permanent culture clash. This is something I say as a joke and have mentioned on my about page, but have never really gotten into detail about how it really feels. If you were ever wondering what it feels like to have moved around for most of your life, and struggle to fit in anywhere, keep on reading.
You don’t have childhood friends
Looking back at my life, the country I spent the most time in was Zimbabwe. For some strange reason, my non-Zimbabwean mother had settled down and decided to raise my sister and I in the home of Victoria Falls. That was a place that I spent fourteen years of my life. Fourteen years learning a culture and creating friendships in a place that I thought would be home forever. But in those fourteen years, I went to four different schools and started over quite a few times. I also crossed paths with many different people that I naively assumed would be a part of my life forever.
After fourteen years of hopping from school to school, I finally moved away and began the second chapter of my life. All of those friends that I had made during my childhood have disappeared into the ether. Some have stayed acquaintances on Facebook, others happen to be silent bodies in the same city right now. But almost all of them are living their own lives. It doesn’t stop with just people from Zim actually. About 90-95% of the people I met growing up are scattered across the globe and have become distant memories.
People always ask where you are from
Living in such a globalised world, this is a question that people always ask at the start of a conversation. But you know something funny? This question gives me anxiety! It’s not the easiest to explain that I was born in one random country to parents with heritage from three different countries. That’s when the interrogations start coming, and boy do people get inquisitive!
What I’ve found to be the easiest solution to this problem to just go by whatever passport I am carrying. So when I was in Brazil and Japan, I claimed to be Angolan. In China, I was Zimbabwean. In any other country, I claim to be be South African even though I do not hold the passport. My mother’s mother was full Zulu, born and raised in Durban after all!
Your accent doesn’t quite come from anywhere
The interesting thing about living in the twenty-first century is that people come in all different shapes, colours, and sizes. The other thing that I find quite interesting is that accents seem to be tainted to the point of no recognition. That’s basically how mine is as well.
For me, British English was the very first I ever learned. My schooling system was based on O-levels and A-levels. My spelling was hardcoded to be like the Queen… then came the travelling. When you hop from a British educational system to a Canadian, your accent will change. Then go from that to an American based University and your writing style will change too!
You don’t speak any language fluently
English is my native language, so I like to believe I speak it quite fluently. The thing about being fluent in a language is that you should be able to express yourself completely without the need to switch to another language. Well, when you grow up in different countries and learn different languages, you find certain expressions that convey a certain message perfectly but cannot be translated. Pair that with people that speak both languages and you find yourselves inventing a new language.
When my siblings and I chat, we often switch back and forth from Portuguese to English. The same happens when I am speaking to my friends in Japan. It’s really not a problem at all, but I’ve noticed that this has also crept into my professional life. Imagine being on a conference call with a client that you are trying to sell a product and find yourself constantly throwing in random words and expressions from a different language!
You cannot relate to a specific culture
If you read through my Blogmas posts, you would have noticed a post or two that was centered around Portuguese food. Ever wondered how I speak so much about Portuguese culture but claim to have concluded all of my education in English? And then all that talk about Japan? Yeah, don’t ask.
Okay, okay, I’ll let you in on a bit. My father is Angolan and my mother was half Mozambican half South African but somehow met in Zimbabwe. However, besides the food, I really struggle to relate to both of my parent’s home countries and cultures since I grew up in many different places. As I mentioned before, when people ask where I am from, I tend to just claim whatever passport I have a visa in at the time. This definitely makes conversations easier but also makes it easier for me to wrap my head around. Until the questions start flowing about how life is in said country.
Conclusion – What culture?
When I married my husband who was also from Angola but moved away when he was very young, it was an interesting task to figure out what traditions we needed to follow to appease our families. Well, mostly mine really. And now that we have a daughter, it is even harder trying to teach her about her heritage. Solution? Create our own tradition!
I am grateful for the experiences that I had growing up and all of the lessons life taught me. This is something I will never take for granted. But while it seems like such a cool thing to have traveled around the world, the biggest downfall is living in a permanent culture clash. It isn’t always fun not fitting in anywhere, but it’s something that I am grateful for.