Which life expectancy statistic do I belong to?
When will I die?
As anyone who has intimate knowledge of several cultures will tell you, belonging to more than one country is quite an enrichment to one’s life. As a reward for being the slightest bit open and curious, one is automatically shielded from provincialism, narrow-mindedness and will always know for sure, if not appreciate, that there are always at least two or more ways of interpreting a story.
An expatriate will always be a bit richer in culture than a native, for having felt on her own skin, for better or worse, the little idiosyncrasies of any culture that casual touristic visits can only sketch a caricatural superficial hunch of.
But being the lucky owner of multi-cultures is not all assets and wonder. If we don’t take into consideration the feeling of not really belonging anywhere, of never losing the stranger status in the new country, and gradually but surely becoming a stranger in the original one, there are other disadvantages of being an expatriate.
Language, if not mastered fully, down to the very local accent, could be one. It will make you stand out. And depending on whether your adopted country is friendly or not, it could etch the ridges of smiled-to foreignness that describe you deeper and deeper , or completely isolate you in a virtual ghetto of otherness.
Another difficulty could arise if you have aging parents in the country you left behind – and you genuinely want to care for them. Prepare to be rich enough to travel often, and free enough to have the time to do it. But even under the most favorable of conditions, you just can’t really “be there”. Some things one has to learn to accept.
If you have children, they might exacerbate the awareness of your dichotomy. While they will probably “be” more of one culture, hopefully with an added sprinkling of your own original own, admiring their seamlessly adapted (integrated) identities will inevitably bring out the insisting question: who are you really. Who have you become?
One thing that mystifies me is not quite knowing which culture my body is supposed to have. Has it kept it’s original? Muted into a new one? Or distorted into some hybrid of a-bit-of-this-and-a-bit-of-that? What is my death (life) expectancy? Which statistics do I follow?
If I now live in a country where people have ten less years on average on paper, will I die sooner than I was supposed to? If breast cancer is a rarity where I grew up but has epidemic proportions where I now live, what are my chances? Will it depend on my atavistic collective genes, or will it depend on the life I have led in my expatriation? What if I have kept following my “native” diet, not succumbing to unhealthy cooking habits of the adoptive country, do the basic staples I am used to eat contain the same types and amounts of nutrients if they are foreigners too? Does an expatriate tomato have any disadvantages from a native one?
If thought processes have anything to do with life expectancy, would my dichotomy cut my life span in half, or maybe double it? How many years does it take for your body to show clinical signs of foreignness, or should I say belonging?
I will die when I die. Dichotomous, transplanted, not quite adapted or fully integrated, one of the traces my life could leave must surely be to try to turn natives into foreigners, to help them be able to look at themselves with other eyes, and therefore become better at accepting the diversity of all people, without which all places would be quite a bit less interesting.