Accepting being an outsider
So many of us hear about the positive side of moving country: it broadens the mind, provides some great life experiences and is typically seen as an exciting adventure. All those things are true, but adjusting to a new environment isn’t always easy. Apart from the usual hurdles such as making friends and learning the local lingo, there’s one element of moving abroad that’s often brushed over: the attitude of the locals towards new arrivals can have a huge impact on both settling in initially and ongoing residence.
Even the cows wear the local badge – a cross.
The Aravis region where I live can be less than welcoming to outsiders. The region sports its own coat of arms and flag, and many here would like to be reinstated as a principality, much like Monaco.
Although many locals are generous with their smiles and patient with my accent, the ones who frown, grunt or simply walk away mid-sentence as soon as they hear an accent never fail to hurt my feelings. However, I’ve discovered my own personal harmony that reduces that pain: acceptance.
Should locals accept ‘outsiders’ who pay tax and inject money into local business? Probably, but the acceptance I’m talking about is the personal acceptance that the locals’ attitude is unlikely to change a great deal in my lifetime. So what’s the point of wasting my time being annoyed by them? I’ve accepted that I am an outsider. I speak with an accent, and I am still not fluent in French despite my best efforts. On top of that, my upbringing is totally different to that of a child from the Aravis, with hot Christmas days ending with a dip in the pool, wearing the same school uniform as everyone else, and living just minutes away from one of the world’s most sprawling cities. Indeed, I’m not surprised that the locals don’t welcome people with such different values, beliefs and habits from their own. Since accepting this, life has been easier.
Now, when I get given change of 20 centimes in 1c and 2c pieces while the next person gets a single 20c coin, or the lady at the bakery refuses to make me a roll and then makes five for the family behind me, I shrug. I can be offended or I can accept the negative and embrace the positive. I’ll take a few croissants instead, and hand over my pile of small change, then eat my treats outside while kids out of uniform walk back to school after their two-hour lunch break. I’ll no doubt choose a different bakery next time.
I can’t help but feel that this acceptance could help anyone who has moved abroad as an adult and felt like an outsider. Yes, you’re an outsider. You’re not from there. Is it your accent or your style or your religion? It doesn’t matter. You’re simply not from there. The locals may show you, albeit rudely, that they recognise this too. They’re merely helping you narrow down your future circle of friends.
Some might say that’s giving in to prejudice, and it probably is, but the anger I used to feel didn’t better the situation and at least this acceptance doesn’t grey my day.
The perfect cultural marriage of French and Australian: Ricard andstubby holders full of beer.
Even after living overseas for twelve years, I feel Australian to the bone. I wear my flag proudly for the Aussie cyclists who pass during Le Tour de France and I force plum pudding and paper hats on any French guests on Christmas day. I embrace the French lifestyle, but I haven’t given up my Australian heritage. Many of my local French friends don’t have the luxury of mixing two cultures. And at the end of the day, I’d prefer to accept that I’m different than to accept that I’m just like everyone else. How about you?