On homesickness

I’ve been getting homesick in Jordan more often this time around.

Part of the reason, I’m sure, is that my beloved dog just died at home, and the realization that life (and death) are going on as scheduled back home is mildly horrifying.

But this trend of homesickness started before that even happened. It’s not that I miss my family any more or less. I’ve gotten used to being away from home, and I’m usually so busy that I only miss them when I stop to think about it. It’s that I miss the feeling of being home.

Last summer when I came to Jordan, I had so many presuppositions about what life in the Middle East would be like in my head that when a few of them were proven false, my entire conception on the culture collapsed–and when my new perspective on it was reforged, it developed with a false sense of security and familiarity. After having my idea that the Middle East was wildly, wildly different from America tossed out of my head, I began to think that it was much more similar to America than it actually is. I’m pretty sure this is a common reaction that Americans, particularly American students, have: they’ve heard that alcohol is absolutely socially taboo in the Middle East, but once they see one bar with Jordanians in it, they’re convinced that everything they had learned about alcohol in the Middle East before was a silly stereotype, so of *course* it’s perfectly safe and culturally acceptable to get completely wasted!

A year’s worth of reading and perspective has led me to see the error in this. All cultures are too complex to be reduced to a number of platitudes (i.e. Muslims never drink, Jordanians are all hospitable, &c). But at the same time, these sorts of platitudes are descriptive of REAL phenomena, which counter-examples cannot be used to disprove. Yes, some Jordanians drink–and it is heavily frowned upon! No, not *all* Jordanians will go out of their way to make you feel as if you are at home in their country–but hospitality is still something that the culture as a whole values! No matter how many people I run across who do not perfectly conform to the Form of the Jordanian (hint: about as many who don’t conform to the Form of the American), CULTURAL NORMS STILL EXIST.

My host family has come as close as they can to providing a home for me in Jordan, but it will never *really* be home because there is a huge cultural barrier between us. The same interactions are viewed through different cultural lenses. It can (and is looking like it will) be an extremely pleasant experience, and much learning about different perspectives can occur on both sides, but at no point will their perspective BECOME my perspective. That is the cultural wall.

I’ve been realizing this slowly over the past week or so, but I really internalized that knowledge when I started crying because my dog had died and my host family was just completely baffled as to why I was so upset. It wasn’t that they were being rude–they were just trying to understand.

I can become familiar with Jordanian culture. I might even someday become fluent in it. But I will never be a native speaker. When someone slaps me in the face, my vulgarities will always come out in English before Arabic.

So, sometimes I get homesick for America. But I’m starting to see that it’s not necessarily because I am a weakling–it’s because I see the legitimate differences between this culture and my own culture, and feel special affinity for my own. I defy any soccer fan to deny me that right.

يلا أمريكا.

~ by putthisinyourrecord on 28 June 2010.

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