Wednesday, April 08, 2009

My fellow weirdos...

When I was living in France -- for seven years -- I felt like I fit in. I would walk down the street, look around me, and feel like I "get" this place, and I'm a part of it. After a year and a half in Zürich, Switzerland is starting to become homey and familiar, but it's still foreign and strange, and so am I. Perversely, I find that I've made more friends here than I had in Bordeaux. And it's not in spite of my strangeness, it's because of it.

Back in Bordeaux, I didn't have much reason to pursue a friendship with one person instead of another. I joined a club for anglophone expat women in France, but I only attended once -- I didn't feel like I had much in common with them. But here, I naturally fall right in with my fellow weirdos. American, French, Canadian, Brit, and people from even more exotic locales, we all make up one motley band.

The people of the expat and blended-poly-cultural community have a lot of common experiences, regardless of which country they started out in and which culture they moved or married into. (Actually, I was already a part of it in France and earlier, as the Mathematical community is very international.)

"Am I cool with fitting in nowhere? Am I okay with being in a limbo?" asks Andrew, this time talking about that other part of my identity: being an atheist "cultural Mormon."

Well, I am what I am. Like it or not, I have only so much choice in the matter. And I'm happy living in limbo, why not? Being a perpetual outsider, straddling multiple communities -- without fitting entirely in any one -- isn't the absence of real identity. It's an identity that's a little bit different.


La Framéricaine said...

For a very long time in Southern California, my French husband and I were part of a "club Français ambulant" and the one thing that we always remarked about it was that those people who were no longer culturally "pure" had much more in common with one another than they did with a mono-cultural or -linguistic person from any of their original cultural backgrounds because once you expand beyond the "box" you can never again squeeze yourself down to fit in perfectly again.

Very nice post. It definitely mirrors my own experience.

(my word verf is: irreggin. No joke)

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Framéricaine!!!

Exactly! I feel the same way. (as you can guess from this post. ;^) )

Matt said...

I for one find your weirdo compelling. Please, continue. :P

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Matt!!! :P

MoHoHawaii said...

You could trade it all in and become a housewife in Sandy, Utah.


BTW, this don't-quite-fit feeling is very common to gay people. A lot of Jews feel (or have traditionally felt) this way. You're in very good company.

Personally, I think you peg the "fabulous meter.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks MoHoHawaii!!! :D

Craig said...

Being Canadian and living for several years in the US & Europe, I find myself relating more easily to other immigrants and international people than those who have lived in just one place and speak just one language, and only know one culture.

Holly said...

Hi CL--I need someone to offer me some insights into French culture, and since you felt you fit in in France, you're probably the best person I know for the job.

I just posted a couple of videos on my blog about the delights of shaving one's pubic hair. The French one is quite slick and interesting, and I can understand certain phrases, but I think I'm missing something over all. The English version stresses how great it is to shave, how relaxing and fun.... I can understand being pleased with the final product, but the process doesn't seem like it's THAT much of a good time. Anyway, if you get a chance, I'd be curious to know what you think of the ads.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Craig!!!

It's fun to be multi-cultural, isn't it?

Hey Holly!!!

Haha, maybe I'm exaggerating how much I understand French culture, since that commercial strikes me as really weird.

The English version definitely makes more sense (I get that they're making a joke about the fact that their metaphor is so obvious), but in the French version, the obvious metaphor somehow isn't enough -- they have to supplement with some sort of (what is that style, anyway?) 80's-retro dance fashions...?

One thing I noticed in the English version is that (perhaps as part of the joke?) they don't explicitly indicate that unshaved bush is gross or ugly or that shaving is something you do for men -- they seem to be claiming that pubic shaving is something that women do just for fun. The French version makes those points explicitly about a woman's pubic attractiveness to men. All-in-all, I'd say the French version is creepier than the English version, though the English version gives it some real competition, especially since (as sbg points out), "the Asian and white women go daintily about their business and the black woman goes at her bush with a frigging chainsaw."

That said, I don't watch television, so I really don't have the background to place this in the context of commercials in general, French or English.

Varina said...

It is odd isn't it, how people here (Hey, I'm still in Switzerland, for 1 more hour) will become friends with nothing more in common than being from elsewhere. I've mentioned before that most of my friends here a conservative Christian girls, and we are friends just because we are all foreign au pairs. In America we would probably never be friends, but here...

I'm interested, Is America really that different from Canada?

Holly said...

Well, at least I'm not the only one to find the whole thing weird. Thanks for making a stab at explaining it.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sabayon!!!

That is so true!!! People I wouldn't have had a reason to make friends with (in our original environment) become friends by virtue of this shared adventure.

Hey Holly!!!

Dammit, now I have those two awful songs stuck in my head. lol.

Anonymous said...

I find it very interesting when I make a friend here and it suddenly occurs to me, wow, I would be this person's friend ANYWHERE. We're simpatico and compatible and, well, friends. But it happens fairly rarely -- most of my friends are situational. And that's okay too. I like hanging with the motley outsiders. Problem with the motley outsiders where I am is, there are enough in a concentrated area that they are cliquish. *Eye rolls*

Speaking of buds, looking forward to seeing you in a couple weeks! Also, Carmen (London friend) is coming the weekend after next, if you want to come hang out?

- wry

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Wry!!!

Absolutely, those kind of connections -- not just convenience -- are the best! :D

I'd absolutely love to come visit with you and Carmen! That is, if you're willing to tolerate some more horror stories on that one subject that is taboo on the Internets. ;^)

Bored in Vernal said...

hmmm, this post has left me wondering: what's MY excuse for not fitting in???

and my word verification is "santina." Who thinks these up?

LivingWithMormons said...

What a strange blog and yet, I'm fascinated.
I came across it following mormon related links and I'm really glad I did.

I was born in Brazil and moved to the US at the age of 15 (I'm 33 now), so I can say I'm quite used to the American way, but there's just something about other cultures that attract me still so much.

I miss the genuine and unguarded friendliness that Brazilians present to anyone, really. As soon as you meet one, you'll find yourself in the company of their friends and family over a nice slab of meet on a skewer and a glass of beer.

I've been trying to convince my wife to move to Europe so the kids can be exposed to different cultures at an early age, but she's a small-town home body, so for now, we're stuck in Layton, Utah (of all places for an exmo).


Eileen said...

Hey CL - I was wondering if you had a copy of the article you wrote for Lubab No More on the similarities between Orthodox Judaism and Mormonism? I just read Hella Winston's Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels and want to do a comparative religion post dealing with Hasidism and fundamentalist Christianity (mostly the current "patriocentric" movement). It looks like Lubab No More has gone private so I can't access it.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey BiV!!!

LOL, I know how you feel!!! I'm glad I have a good excuse now, but it's not like I wasn't a misfit before. ;^)

Hey Living with Mormons!!!

Thanks, I'm glad I found your blog too!!! :D

Brazil is a fascinating country. I look forward to reading more about how this cultural difference affects your interfaith marriage in the land of Mormons.

Hey E.L. Fay!!!

Wow, that's too bad!!! It's so sad when cool blogs suddenly go private. Fortunately for this one article's sake, I have the original email where I sent it to them. Here it is:

My Tribe

Have you ever had an admirer who watches you from afar, looking for cues and good ideas to emulate? Sweet, isn't it?

Today I'd like to tell you some of the reasons why the Mormons feel like they have a special affinity with the Jews, and you can tell me (in the comments) whether this makes sense or whether it's completely nuts.

First of all, the Mormons believe themselves to be another tribe of Israel. The reasoning behind this is a little complex (let's save it for "advanced topics"), but it has historically led to the amusing Mormon practice of referring to non-Mormons as "gentiles." I remember back in grad school on of my professors telling me he found Utah hilarious because it was the only place in the world where he was called a "gentile." His experience was probably based on a misunderstanding, yet it's not entirely unexpected.

The Mormons' historical claim to being a tribe of Israel is pretty tenuous -- and their theological connection with Judaism is even more tenuous (the two sets of beliefs are very different) -- yet even if it amounts to no more than terminology, it still warms Mormons up to the idea that they're a tribe like the Jews. And sometimes just believing something encourages people to make it so.

Probably the most important real parallel is the Mormon exodus. The Mormons crossed the wilderness as a group (back in the days when it was no small feat to do so) to build their own society in a hostile landscape that they saw as their promised land. This trek -- plus a few generations when the Mormons were a fairly isolated group in Utah -- forged an identity as a people. (Note that because the Mormon population was isolated during a critical growth period, many sociologists see Mormonism as an ethnicity.) As I've said in earlier comments here, you may think it's crazy that a group with such a short history could have a strong attachment to their heritage. but consider the fact that the U.S.A.'s history as a nation isn't much longer than Mormon history, and look how fiercely proud the Americans are of their national/cultural identity. Mormon history may be short, but it's memorable, to say the least.

There are also practical similarities in religious observance department: strict gender roles, a modesty code for women, rules about what one can/can't do on the Sabbath, requirements of wearing certain articles of clothing, and a strict dietary code. Keeping the Mormon "Word of Wisdom" is far less elaborate than keeping kosher, but it is no less a mark of whether one is observant/religious or not. These similarities may seem superficial, yet the parallel become more apparent when you read (in blogspace) about the experiences of non-believers raised Mormon compared to the experiences of non-believers who were raised frum. (See also my online novel Exmormon for more details and stories about what growing up in a Mormon family is like.) In both cases, spouses and other family members are often as upset about seeing the non-believer break key mitzvot/commandments as they are about the non-belief itself. And in both cases, non-belief/non-practice is often seen by religious family members as a rejection of one's family and identity.

Thus we have another tribe whose identity is centered around a religion, and who -- like the Jews -- are a minority everywhere in the world except in a small homeland. So it's natural for Mormons to look at the Jewish example when it comes to questions about identity (here's a recent example on a popular Mormon blog) and questions about culture. The Mormon lit community routinely uses Jewish literature as an ideal to emulate, both in terms of serious literature (see the comments on this post and this post for typical examples) and popular stuff (the Mormons love Fiddler on the Roof, and admit to having "Fiddler-Envy").

Then there's politics. I was telling a friend of mine recently about how -- after being the most loyal stalwarts of the Religious Right -- the Mormons were shocked to discover they weren't really part of the club when they saw how Mitt Romney's religion was treated by the Religious Right's Evangelical core. "What? The Religious Right is intolerant?" laughed my friend, and she went on to explain that this is the main reason why the Jews tend to vote Democrat -- they realize they're better off under a government that believes in pluralism. I'm hoping it will finally sink in to the average Mormon that they really are a minority, and perhaps one day they'll catch this same clue.

So what do you think? Does it make any sense to imagine we're fellow tribes?

Annie D. Stratton said...

How odd I stumbled back to this blog just now. I've been pondering some of these multi-cultural issues. I am a US westerner living in New England, and I seriously feel out of place. I call myself a PacNW ex-pat. The culture here is so different. I've lived here over 11 years and have come to the conclusion I'll NEVER really fit in. I am a westerner through and through.

There's more: I'm also ex-mo, all the way back on the white side. I like to say "Born, raised, escaped, no thank you" whenever the little boys in blue suits come to my door. It is SO wierd that I now actually live in the same state that Joe Smith and Brig Young were born in. No wonder they were so... unique.

And there's more. My mother's great grandmother was a black woman who was 4th wife (of 7) to one of the early polygamists. This was apparently back in the days when they decided to "brighten" up the race by intermarriage, since converting them didn't work exactly the way Joe claimed and they stayed stubbornly black.

In our family, the story of our African ancestry (that's how it was referred to) was passed down female to female, never to the boys, and we were warned to be careful who we told "because most people won't understand". My mother knew black history and culture and talked to me about it a lot. My brothers have no recollection.

On top of that. my primary cultural identity is Navajo on my dad's side. The brown mormons, though just about everyone except one aunt dropped out after a couple of generations.

Those are the folks I learned the truth from about the mormons-- we were a large, extended family and it was a kick to hear all those older folks badmouthing and laughing about the mormons. Except the one aunt, whose proud accomplishment in life was to have lots of kids grandkids and spend all her retirement money on missions. I imagine as a result, she is well-ensconced as co-goddess on her very own planet now (polygamy goes back into effect after you die, according to current mo dogma).

Technically, I'm not an apostate because I refused to be baptized, which created a huge scene at the baptism thing. They made me sit there behind the curtain in those stupid white clothes because they wouldn't believe me when I said I didn't want to be baptized. When they came to get me, I literally dug my heels in and started screaming. Smartest thing I ever did. (This whole thing was my aunt's idea, and I never forgave her for it.

So now here I am, an escapee from mormon culture, mixed blood Navajo/Euro/African, practicing Buddhist, living in a small village where people don't much care one way or the other, and everybody knows everyone else and how they are connected. A lot of my Euro ancestors were here from when NE was first settled by English, so I actually have relatives here. They don't hug out here, though, which is the part I can't get used to.

Yeah, I'm weird, but they're weirder.

Shaving pubic hair? Really?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Dayle!!!

Wow, that is a really fascinating history!!! I'm glad you've found my blog. As soon as I get back from vacation, I'll subscribe to your blog and I'd like to add you to Outer Blogness if you don't mind.