Sunday, September 23, 2007

Putting the Ex in Ex-Pat

On Friday, I had to drive nearly 40 miles to Blarney for my NCT, which is a sort or road-worthiness test that every car over a certain age has to pass every two years. My car is 11 and its certification was due to expire at the end of this month. I didn't want to leave the test too late, since I was worried about passing and wanted to have enough time to fix any defects and retake the test if I failed. However, since I'd waited too long to book the test, under the misapprehension that I would be sent directions for booking, I ended up having to go to Blarney instead of being able to go only 15 miles to Macroom.

When I pulled into the test centre, I was already annoyed. I'd spent a portion of the trip stuck behind a rental car, driven by an ancient tourist. When I'd managed to find a straight enough stretch of road to ditch old Grampsie, it was only to get stuck behind another rental car, driven by the far more annoying kind of tourist. I understand how it is to be a newbie on the roads in the wilds of County Cork. They're narrow and they're twisty and, on some of them, 80 kph isn't a speed limit, it's a suicide pact.

But that's only some of the roads. Other roads, once you get to know them, as long as you don't drive up the middle and you take it easy on the corners, they're not that bad. You should be able to go at least 60 on most of them. This annoying type of driver is annoying because they drive 30kph on the twisty bits, but then shoot up to 70 or 80 on the straight-aways, making it nearly impossible to pass them. When you're in a hurry, it is absolute torture to get stuck behind one of these Jeckyl-and-Hyde drivers.

To make matters worse, the map on the web site was less than useless, I'd gotten a little lost, and had to ask for directions. I managed to find the place on time, but I was cranky. And hungry. And was realising I had no paper or coin money on me, only my Laser Card, which wasn't going to work in the center's vending machines.

To their credit, the test was efficiently run and I was out of there in under a half-hour, happily clutching a certificate stating my car is roadworthy until September, 2009. But I was still cranky and hungry and I knew I was going to have to remedy that if I had any chance of making it home. The town of Blarney looked crowded and the parking seemed a bit nightmarish, so when I saw a sign for the Woolen Mills, complete with AIB Cash Station and parking lot, I figured it was my best hope for one stop problem solving.

Half-way through my right-hand turn into the place, I had a feeling I was making a horrible mistake. The place was mobbed with the worst kind of American tourist. The kind that wear fanny packs and and sans-a-belt pants and take bus tours and are just so overwhelming in their American-ness. They have no desire to blend in, to follow local custom, to quietly appreciate a place for what it is. They're the kind of people that make me shut my mouth up tight because I don't want anyone to think that I'm one of them. Usually, this isn't too difficult because they stay together and I don't usually end up places that are packed full of them.

But this is something I don't understand about some ex-pats I've met in my travels. People who join Democrats Abroad or the American Women's Club. Maybe if you're only here temporarily, or you're a trailing spouse with nothing else do do. But ex-pats who make an informed decision to live in another country, sometimes permanently, but then spend all their time seeking out their fellow ex-pats. I just don't get it. Couldn't you have stayed home, if you wanted to do that?

I knew a Canadian who was here first on a sort of temporary work permit and then she started to go through the rigourous paperwork and process to get a work permit to stay long-term, with an eye to making the move permanent. But she spent a huge amount of time seeking out fellow Canadians and feeling a surge of pride when she went by the Canadian embassy. She actually seemed a bit puzzled that I had no interest in seeking out fellow Americans.

I'm an Irish citizen and I've decided to make this country my home. There are days when I want to go into the American embassy, light my passport on fire, and walk out. (I don't because I've been counseled by many people not to and I'm no longer a hot-headed teenager.) I know I'm a goose, and that I'll always be a goose, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to be a swan. And nothing is going to make me want to hang out with a flock of geese.


At 23 September 2007 at 22:19, Blogger Kaycie said...

I have had that same feeling traveling abroad. It is embarrassing to be American when a group of that type of loud, boorish, American tourist is close by. I much prefer to blend in and keep my nationality to myself until I have to speak.

At 24 September 2007 at 00:34, Blogger lauren said...

I think you miss the point about dems abroad... I am a long term res. overseas in japan. most of my associations and travels and daily activities are japan related. But I didn't stop caring about usa politics and I still pay taxes to the usa so why SHOULDN't I still want to be an informed active voter?

after all, the main purpose of dems abroad is to provide voting assistance and political information to overseas americans. as we have learned with the bush administration, our president can have grave influence all over the world. We need people to care, no matter where they are living.

At 24 September 2007 at 04:37, Anonymous Primal Sneeze said...

They're narrow and they're twisty and, on some of them, 80 kph isn't a speed limit, it's a suicide pact.

Class! I love that.

At 24 September 2007 at 19:01, Blogger Amy said...

It's a shame that fanny packs are so maligned. They are the most useful travel accessory ever invented. Why is utility always unsexy?

I traveled with a group like you described when I was in high school. It was terribly embarrassing, and I was ashamed that they represented my country. I was shocked at how rude they were and how annoyed they were that things were just the same as home. Why go anywhere if you want things to be the same? What a bore. And you don't show up in someone else's home and treat them like crap. It's no wonder Americans are so universally detested. The polite ones stay quiet and unnoticed like you, so people don't see we're not all obnoxious.

At 25 September 2007 at 20:03, Blogger -Ann said...

Kaycie - You can visit me anytime then. :)

Lauren - Fair enough. But if someone has made the decision to immigrate to another country and integrate into that society, I think it's then time to put both feet in the same country and commit to it.

PS - Thanks. I do a little writing on the side.

Amy - All excellent points. I think I have a tendency to forget that there are 300 million people in the US and they're not all the same.

At 26 September 2007 at 08:46, Blogger wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

When I first moved to the UK, I joined an American ex-Pats group. The women would sit and drink coffee and moan about life in the UK. But unlike the rest of them, I wasn't married to an American sent here for a few years at most. I married an Englishman and my life was going to be here permanently. I found myself attempting friendship with people just because they were American. Finally I had to ask myself if I would have been friends with them if I'd still been in America, and the answer was NO.

I will say that I've not been treated very well by some British people in my 15 years here. There are a lot of assumptions made, many of them negative, about Americans. And I know that if the situation were reversed, they would be treated very well by Americans.

I love your blog and will read more to find out more about you.

At 26 September 2007 at 18:38, Blogger -Ann said...

WUASMTC - Thanks. You're right - there's a huge difference between being a trailing spouse temporarily in the country and marrying in for life. I really enjoy your blog too and think we'd have loads in common if we ever met up. :)


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