Sunday, October 24, 2010

Duality - Life as an Expat

"I am two different people for two different audiences," commented one reader of my recent guest post "How Do You Say.... Me?" on Expat Harem.

My post addressed the issue of being able to let the real you shine through when you are interacting with people in a second language. It is a difficulty that many expats face, and the comments from readers were overwhelming. So many of us endure the same struggles of showing our real personality when the words to express ourselves escape us.
"I can't express the totality of me in English," summed up another reader. 
Expat Sarah Turnbull, in her book Almost French, states after a dinner party,
"I’d said very little all night. When I did speak, it was to issue childlike statements or ask simple questions which made me cringe at my own dumbness.”

This rang a bell with one reader of the blog post,
"I had to laugh at the "cringe at my own dumbness" quote because I find myself constantly doing that here in Italy."

Whilst many of us know the problems associated with learning a new language, this blog post made me realise that there is an undercurrent of issues too when you need to operate in a new language. It is not just grammar, getting by in daily life and understanding the society you live in - it is also about being able to feel like you represent yourself accurately and that you can be true to yourself and your persona in another language.

So how else can you get your message across when you can't find the words?

"Because the Turks are so expressive with their body language I think that really helps me to be more demonstrative if the word escapes me," explains one expat in Turkey.

Another expat says,
"I'm a smiler so I do that a lot! And I try to speak with my hands.... and my hubby can translate but its not the same."

You can of course refuse to budge and speak only in your native language but remember that whilst you are doing that, you are addressing an audience in a language not their own. So do they really get what you are about when you speak in your mother tongue?

There is no easy answer but as Anastasia Ashman puts it,
"Passion is something that will push us to the next stage in trying to communicate." And if there is something that most of us expats have - it's passion!!

*This was first published in February 2010 in an Expats@Home newsletter. If you want to receive future editions of my newsletter you can sign up on this blog (see right column) or*

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