Friday, February 15, 2008

Expat Purgatory

Seeing as I have gotten on a pessimistic note with my last post, why stop now? Now it is time to discuss Expat Purgatory (thanks Alexis for the term).

First, let us define the term:

Expat Purgatory: ex.pat (eks´pat´) pur.ga.tory (pur´gə tôr′ē)
noun

1. The distinct feeling that time stands still in the home country of a person living abroad. Side effects of such a state of mind include the re-surfacing of age-old issues out of the blue that would otherwise be resolved in a standard time-space continuum of a native living in a native land.

2. The state of being causing the sensation an expatriate experiences when returning to his or her native land upon which he or she only wants to re-visit places he or she remembers and has missed.
Ex: "Bummer. It would be cool to take Tiff to that new restaurant in Scottsdale while she’s in town but she wants to go to that lame restaurant we used to go to five years ago. She must be in Expat Purgatory."

3. A cause of the obsession upon returning to ones native land with driving by old places he or she used to live and houses of friends that have long since moved to Seattle, Atlanta, New York and Sacramento, so what the hell is the point of driving by?

4. A desperate sensation of not being able to move forward in one’s foreign land due to the inability to affront one’s past given the lack of any sensory reminders of it. Then when such sensory reminders present themselves (such as a hearing a song in a bar or being emailed pictures of an old friend) one’s past hits one like a ton of fucking bricks.

5. The sudden sensation that all one has done over the last 10 years of his or her life is assimilate a new culture and the realization that this is not enough because that culture then becomes as much a part of one as one’s ugly thumbs. This also includes the realization that besides the accumulation of said culture, one has done jack shit.

Expat Purgatory is a prime example of how space and time are essentially inseparable and meaningless one without the other. While time literally goes by with a space distantiation, it is meaningless because it lacks context. Space is meaningless too if the passage of time is not experienced. This is why it irritates me when I go home and they have torn buildings down that are supposed to be there or added new ones that are just wrong. The new space makes no sense because I have not experienced the time process there.

In Seville, however, I have welcomed the city changes with open arms. New bike lanes leading to a chaotic mutual biker-pedestrian and biker-driver aggression never before seen on the pacific sevillian streets? Bring it on. Light rail with obnoxious neon advertisement speeding by a 600 year old gothic cathedral nearly taking out 10 tourists in its transit and blocking traffic for miles? Sounds good. But you tear down a crappy gas station in Tempe, Arizona and replace it with a bright and shiny Borders Bookstore and that is just wrong. Put the scary gas station back with all the sketchy people hanging around. That is how I remember it, dammit.

I am in Expat Purgatory for crying out loud, have a little mercy.

- Bluestreak

1 comment:

Sarah said...

i feel your pain. i am only 5 hours away, but it was a strange thing to go "home" every couple of years to a completely different view off the 10 freeway. fortunately i have so few remaining ties in az that i have few reasons to return. wish this could translate to better consolation for you. -sarah