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June 2020: An American’s Search For Culture

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Days sick: 0
Days danced: 0
This month I was getting a lot of tests done, reconnecting with a lot of people, moving back into DC, and starting a new venture (or two) online. I did some seminars & other book learnin’ for work-related things, in addition to (almost) finishing the redesign of my site. What I’m saying is that June was very busy! My health continued to improve, though every day it’s been both harder and easier to stay away from stuff like dairy & bread (two of my loves).

Similar to last month, my daily life has been kind of… pedestrian. I’ve finally settled into a routine in my DC apartment, and I’m looking toward a different kind of future than I’d been planning for at the beginning of the year. I’ve even been seeing a guy. But when trying to figure out what to say this month, I stumbled across this old blog post, another one I wrote shortly after arriving in Korea. The site was less than 2 years old back then!

This particular post hadn’t been read or edited in 3.5 years, but it really resonated with me. So continuing on the recent theme of throwback philosophical posts I can fit anywhere else, here is An American’s Search For Culture. As with the last ones of these, my current thoughts will be added in italics, in parentheses.

“The PSA became a global broadcast decades ago: by and large, American culture is default pop culture. It’s, of course, not the only influence upon global popular culture, but it is unquestionably a big one. It’s one which has often left me feeling culture-less. In my travels thus far, I often feel less like I’m experiencing a culture shock than I’m just once again feeling like an “other.”

Slowly I’m being plied with bits of other cultures, as they attempt to teach me about another place with its own unifying, and often quite insular heritage. Most of the time I accept this knowledge drop with open arms & a smile, absorbing as much of it as I can (usually in the form of food and memories). This always feels like too little in the end.

I never leave feeling accepted (And why should I? I’m not a part of that place. Current me believes that you have to make your place in any world you choose to live in, and often that brings a lot of discomfort. Work through it.). But in the US, knowing the culture by heart doesn’t make me feel any more accepted, either. Though then again, I’ve also never been an immigrant in my own country; so I have nothing to judge that against, either.

South Korea, where I was an expat (immigrant?) for 3 years.

Just because I know how to schmooze while sipping champagne does not mean it’s what I see myself ever doing in the foreseeable future. I want to feel comfortable mixing Pisco sours with my friends in Peru or taking shots of soju with my boss in Korea. But this feeling’s not just about being an adaptable person with a flexible way of life, but about a sense of belonging. It’s about a vibe which I’ve yet to get from people in any one place.

I’m not looking for universal acceptance; I need not to be a global citizen, but simply a member of one society whose past I can accept and whose future I want to share with the world. It’s not that I don’t want to be an American anymore, but that I want to be more than just an American. (This missing sense of belonging feels especially relevant with lock down as the current modus operandi and fireworks going off around me, Independence Day just 24 hours away.)

Sometimes when I’m traveling I feel like I’m walking into a constant UN meeting; everybody is bitching about the last person from this country or that who wronged them, acted weird, or pissed them off. What I really wanna know is— why can’t we all just get along? (For one example, see: Donald Trump)

Each country I travel to tends to have a reputation that is wholly deserved and undeserved at once. If you think about it too hard, like I tend to do, the countries as they are now are completely arbitrary and their boundaries were drawn and re-drawn thousands of times. Belonging to one country has little significance to most people, beyond the title on their nonexistent passport.

People identify by these prescribed categories, but they don’t feel them much until they leave the comfort zones of their home regions. Most people know what it means to them to be Nigerian or Korean or Pakistani, but it’s often hard to put words to the little parts of it that are so uniquely there. That is, until you experience things that are different.”

But hey, since you are what you eat, I guess that means I’ve become a little of everywhere.

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