Today’s prompt in the Expat Blog Challenge is to respond to the following quote by T. Crossley:
‘Expat Syndrome’ is a condition whereby many expatriates see mostly either the best of their own nationality & the worst of the locals, or see the opposite.
I work on viewing cultural differences as just that, differences. I try not to judge them against each other and decide that one is better than the other. Crossley’s quote describes a natural tendency, but it is a dangerous one we have to challenge.
I have great admiration for the US, but we shouldn’t be blind to its problems: growing inequality, institutionalised racism, the lack of adequate health care, violence, and so forth. The things that Americans believe to be true or simply don’t know is astounding.
From Australia, I see the best and worst of the US. I see the worst because that’s what the media reports. Aussies love to say, “Only in America”, but Australia is not a crime-free ecological utopia of perfect politics and sex and gender equity. The problems we face in America are found here too along with some uniquely Australian ones.
The best of the US is most visible here in entertainment. Americans dominate Australian music charts, movie theaters, and television. Even though it may be superficial, it’s as much a powerful reflection of us at our best. American entertainment reflects our creativity, strong work ethic, and our cooperative, generous, and celebratory spirit.
Being in Melbourne makes me appreciate the life I had in Miami. It was fun, comfortable, and full of family and friends. It doesn’t cause me to see the worst in the locals, as Crossley suggests. Melbourne is a wonderful city and Australia is a beautiful country that gets a lot of things right. I love my partner and his/our family and friends. I love it when a friendly sales lady at a local store engages me in conversation wanting to know where I’m from, how I like it in Australia, and tells me how much she wants to visit the States someday.
Crossley’s alternative is wrong too. Seeing the best of Australians doesn’t undermine my view of Americans. The media likes to pit us up against each another in a twisted understanding of survival of the fittest. It likes to highlight our differences and make us afraid of one another. I sometimes refer to “mean world syndrome”, a phrase coined by George Gerbner to refer to the phenomenon whereby the constant violence-related content in mass media makes us believe the world is more dangerous than it really is. Fear undermines trust in each other and makes civic life more difficult.
I propose that “expat syndrome” is the condition marked by excitement, a sense of adventure, wanderlust, and also disorientation, isolation, and homesickness. It will either highlight your provincial edges or turn you into a citizen of the world. It might do both.