They say that one reason people like to go abroad is that they can become someone else, and frequently they do. It’s true that this is mainly said of why people go on vacation, but I think in a lot of ways it also applies to those who move around, a lot. I never really thought of it, and it’s true that now that I’m looking back on it with this in mind, there were a lot of hints to that effect. But back then I just did it for the sake of doing it. I was also a child, and later a teen, and even later in college, so these are normal stages for people to take on a new identity. Who am I kidding, we all do that, or have done so at some stage. Maybe we don’t even notice.
The first instance I can remember is my name. I went by my middle name in elementary school, mainly because I didn’t have a choice in the matter. My freshman year of high school, which coincided with yet another move, I started using my first name, and I haven’t looked back since. I also came out of my shell then. There are only about half a dozen people who call me by my middle name today, and half of those belong to the same family. And with some of them, I am a different person.
Other than that, I didn’t notice any changes specifically connected to changing countries or states. I always liked to spin stories and try out different characters, so I’d do that regardless of where I was. Face-to-face rather than in writing because it was more fun. Before I discovered my Hungarian roots, I defined myself as French-American, later it became French-Hungarian, or French-Hungarian-American. French-Hungarian usually sounded better, because usually I’d be having the conversation in English or German – neither of which anyone expected me to speak with my background – so it made me more unique. Having grown up as the only person with my kind of background for the better part of my life (or the part that, according to psychologists, counted), that was my comfort zone. I wanted to belong, but I also wanted to stand out. For those of you who believe this exerts influence, I’m a Gemini with Libra rising, so both sides of me need one extreme to find balance. Which would really explain why I love Hungary so much. I always managed to somehow find both the balance and the extremes here.
All of which, after a long intro, brings me to the point of this post. I’m so used to switching the truth around, when I meet someone connected to a person from childhood, or even college, I actually have to stop myself from automatically saying what feels right at that time. It’s not a question of lying as it is a question of ending up in a pointless argument. You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t understand that just because you were born in one country doesn’t make you a citizen of said place, or that a person can have more than one language they consider to be their mother tongue. When I get cornered like that, I start lying. I was not born in my passport country, I was born in a country I hate beyond any and all reason. I feel no links to the place, even though I speak the language and could easily pass for a native. The reason being that my mother had an operation she felt could only be done there. But I usually forget about that, and unless the person I’m arguing with means something to me, to adapt the famous saying, I’d rather walk away than debate with a fool.
And yet, there are those occasions when you can’t make things up, because the new person you just met is tied to someone of old. I don’t want to disrespect them by lying to them, and I don’t want to insult them by assuming. My cousin’s girlfriend was such a case in point. My cousin has lived in my mother’s birth country all his life, and even if we don’t speak daily, we’re very close. His girlfriend and I bonded straight away, so sitting on a beach with a bottle of wine between us, she asked me the usual question, which I really don’t mind, since it gives me a chance to explain. I knew I couldn’t lie to her, my cousin was right there, besides, she was really nice, so we had a very long chat about finding our place in the world and identity.
I don’t know if I’m alone in this, or if most cross-cultural people act that way. My last two years of school in Germany, I made friends with a girl from one of my tutoring groups who was half Turkish, half German. We were both equally interested in Math, so spent most of our time outside on the balcony smoking and became friends. She told me, right after showing me her wounded nails from “scratching off all the neo-Nazi posters in the vicinity,” that she couldn’t wait to turn eighteen, at which point she’d get rid of her Turkish passport. When I asked her why, she said it would make crossing the border a lot easier, because the minute the Germans saw her Turkish passport, they started frisking her and her family, forcing them to unload the car. I told her I got the same treatment when I went to the UK and they saw my French passport, that even the Germans got treated way better, but there was no way in hell I’d even remotely consider a German passport. We left it at that and went back in to at least try and sit through the rest of our confinement.