Third Culture Humor

Speaking of Third Culture people sharing some traits, Jordan Weeks’s Blogger profile links to the following page:

American Embassy School / American International School New Delhi, India, AIS/AES Alumni News

It’s one of those Jeff Foxworthy-type humorous lists of traits which might be shared by some group of people. In this case, the list is adapted from a Facebook group about Third Culture children. As it happens to be a group which I joined a while ago, those connections also work for the Small World Effect.

Anyhoo, I kind of like the list itself. Not because it’s unbelievably funny. But because I can relate to many of these things.

For instance, the following traits are quite relevant in my case:

  1. You flew before you could walk.
    • First airplane trip at six months.
  2. You have a passport, but no driver’s license.
    • Actually, I have two passports. And the fact that I don’t have a driver’s license is a matter of much discussion with people who are “unlike me” in this Third Culture sense. Because I dreamt just last night about getting a driver’s license, this item is probably the one which caught my eye and incited me to blog the list.
  3. You feel that multiple passports would be appropriate.
    • I do think multiple passports are appropriate in the current situation. But I do look forward to a post-national world in which citizenships and passports are irrelevant.
  4. Your life story uses the phrase “Then we went to…” five times (or six, or seven times…).
    • Technically, 21 times since December 2000, and several times before that. But I mostly moved alone and during my adult life.
  5. Living out of a suitcase, you find, has it pros.
    • Yeah, I kinda like living in boxes. I also enjoy the fact that this move to Austin might be my last one. Still, I do enjoy the lifestyle of the semi-nomad.
  6. You realize it really is a small world, after all.
  7. You can’t answer the question: “Where are you from?”
    • Well, I can, and my answer doesn’t need to be too complex. But it does get complicated when people actually try to understand who I am.
  8. Once you get home you miss your adopted home and vice versa
    • Oh, yes! It gets silly, actually. The curse of living in different places is that you always miss the other places. This one seems to be a big one for a lot of people.
  9. National Geographic (OR THE TRAVEL CHANNEL) makes you homesick.
    • Maybe not those specific examples, but still. I get homesick about Mali, even though I didn’t spend that much time there. And Mali does get on “exotic tv” fairly often.
  10. Rain on a tile patio – or a corrugated metal roof – is one of the most wonderful sounds in the world.
    • Again, because of Mali.
  11. You got to go home twice a year …that’s if you’re lucky.
    • This one might be very common but it still has been quite true of my life during the past 14 years.
  12. When something unusual happens and it just doesn’t seem to phase you as being something unordinary.
    • This one might just have to do with being an anthropologist. But it was pretty much true when I was a kid (and I associated it with being a “stateless person” («apatride»).
  13. You sort your friends by continent.
    • This one is technically true and kind of funny. But it’s not as relevant as some of the other ones because it’s more of a practical issue.
  14. You don’t think it’s strange that you haven’t talked to your best friend in a while because you know you will always have a unique bond.
    • I don’t even think you need to travel for this to happen but it’s certainly true for me. Though, it does influence my conception of who my BFF might be.
  15. Half of your phone calls are unintelligible to those around you.
    • This one is rather easy as a French-speaker living in Austin. But still.
  16. You are a pro packer, or at least have done it many times.
    • I was thinking about this a little while ago. Not only in terms of moving from one place to the other but also through being a child of divorce going to see his father every other weekend…

The following items are probably less relevant but they do fit, to a certain extent.

  1. You start to keep your experiences overseas to yourself because people look at you as though you are spoiled for having the opportunity to indulge in a new culture… sad.
    • The anthro’s curse.
  2. A friend talks about their dreams of traveling to across the world to a secluded country and you can give them all the best restaurants and places to visit. You’re like the traveler guidebook.
    • I enjoy doing it when I can, even just for the jetsetter factor, but I don’t do it much (because of the jetsetter factor).
  3. You have little or no contact with the locals but are best friends with people across the globe.
    • Pretty true in Austin so far, but it doesn’t look like it’ll remain the case for very long.
  4. You wake up in one country thinking you are in another.
    • Less frequent, nowadays. It tended to happen more frequently, earlier in life, because I wasn’t as used to moving.
  5. You don’t know where home is.
    • Not really accurate but there is this sense of disenfranchisement on the way back.
  6. You don’t feel at home at home anymore.
    • Sure. But temporary.
  7. When you start introducing yourself followed by your country of origin….
    • Because of my accent in English, this one is a given. And vice-versa: because of this “quirk,” I enjoy keeping my accent intact.
  8. You literally have real friends (not facebook friends) from different schools all over the nation on your friends list.
    • Depends which nation and it has more to do with being an academic.
  9. You have best friends in 5 different countries.
    • See BFF issue above but it’s still kind of true. At least for four countries on three continents.
  10. When you return to the States you are overwhelmed with the number of choices in a grocery store.
    • A Midwesterner friend of mine alerted me about this one, a few years ago and I did experience it in Canada on my way back from Mali or even from Canada to the United States. But it’s not that durable.
  11. You live at school, work in the tropics, and go home for vacation.
    • One of those common things for academics.
  12. You speak two (or more) languages but can’t spell in any of them.
    • I’m not too bad a speller, actually.
  13. You automatically take off your shoes as soon as you get home.
    • Is that supposed to be unusual?
  14. You think VISA is a document stamped in your passport, and not a plastic card you carry in your wallet.
    • In many contexts, sure.
  15. You hate subtitles because you know there is someone that can make an accurate translation.. you!
    • Any bilingual feels this, I’m sure. And it does spill over to languages you don’t in fact know, as you know the feeling too strongly not to get it elsewhere. For instance, in this interview with Larry Lessig on Danish TV.
  16. You watch a movie set in a ‘foreign country’, and you know what the nationals are really saying into the camera.
    • Pretty much the same idea, but with the added exoticism of the “National Geographic eye.”
  17. You have a time zone map next to your telephone.
    • Not really but, like many others, I do have to memorize some timezones.
  18. Your second major is in a foreign language you already speak.
    • Not really the case for me. But I did end up using English as one of my foreign language requirements in graduate school and the other one is also related to my Ph.D. minor.
  19. Your wardrobe can only handle two seasons: wet and dry.
    • This one might happen here in Austin, actually. But I might just end up wearing the same clothes yearlong.
  20. You speak with authority on the quality of airline travel.
    • Kind of similar to the jetsetter factor above. Although, I do enjoy talking about differences in airplane food.
  21. When you carry converters because you actually realize there are different types of outlets.
    • Don’t we all realize this?
  22. You don’t even bother to change your watch when traveling.
    • Well, I do bother changing it but I wish there were more devices which automatically switch.
  23. When you were in middle school you could walk into a bar and order a drink without being questioned.
    • France was like that when I spent time there but I’ve never really lived there for an extended period of time.
  24. You are afraid to go back to visit your school because you know no one will be there whom you used to know, they all moved.
    • Actually, in my case, it was more about being surprized that people still lived there.
  25. You have the opportunity to intern at your Embassy/High Commission without any qualifications.
    • Not really close but I did think about doing it and it seemed like there might be ways to make it work.
  26. You got sick a lot and often had food poisoning.
    • Actually, I might have avoided food poisoning because of a diverse diet. But I did get sick for months while in Mali. Not really sure what it was, though. Might not have been the food after all.

So… I can somehow relate to about half of the 83 traits listed in the “International School” I’m taking these from. Yet my life hasn’t been that of an International School student. Or, really, that of a typical “Third Culture kid.” But as a “stateless person” («apatride») since childhood, as someone who did get to travel intercontinentally early on, as an anthropologist, and as an academic, I can relate to many of these traits.

I guess there’s a few I might add (though not phrased as elegantly):

  1. You often thought you might have recognized someone until you realized that this person is unlikely to have travelled along with you.
  2. You start a casual conversation with someone you knew years ago to realize after ten minutes that the last time you met was in a completely different part of the world.
  3. You actually don’t mind being told that you have an accent (including in your native language).
  4. You’ve had conversations in three languages or more, including situations in which you only understood one of the languages spoken.
  5. (Corollary of previous item) You’re fine with not understanding what people around you are saying.
  6. You don’t remember exactly where some aspect of your behavior might have been deemed normal.
  7. Members of a local community you just entered find you more “normal” than local people.
  8. You’re surprized when a flight takes less than six hours.
  9. You find National Geographic too exoticizing but you find mainstream media quite foreign.
  10. While moving to a new city, you get multiple “flashbacks” from very disparate places.
  11. You don’t really know what’s exotic to whom, anymore.
  12. You can’t remember what was the main language of a dream you’ve just had.
  13. You know exactly that feeling described in L’auberge espagnole of the unfamiliar rapidly becoming familiar when you move to a new place. (You know, the Urquinaona and Mandelieu section.)
  14. You don’t get impressed by well-traveled people.
  15. You never need to take on an act because you’re never completely sure who you are anyway.
  16. You’ve made friends in places where newcomers aren’t welcome.
  17. You actually don’t care so much about where you live but you do care quite a bit about how you live.
  18. You have a hard time acting like a tourist. Except in your hometown.
  19. You prefer meeting new people to seeing well-known landmarks.
  20. You can quickly find your way around any city, sometimes more easily than locals would.
  21. You spent your honeymoon visiting half a dozen places yet you didn’t spend a single night in a hotel room or in a campground.
  22. You get a Chowhound’s sense of what’s the best thing to eat at almost any place you visit.
  23. You don’t need a garage but you do need a guest room.
  24. You’ve presented the wrong passport to a border officer.
  25. You’re fluent in a number of varieties of your native language and this “quirk” carries on to your second or third language.
  26. You make a point not to spend too much time with people who “come from the same place” as you yet you do enjoy their company on occasion.
  27. You wonder why people around you find unacceptable something you thought was pretty commonplace.
  28. You’ve been back-and-forth enough that you’ve noticed a lot of changes in places wherre you’ve been yet you’re actually pretty neutral about these changes.
  29. Homesickness, nostalgia, saudade, “sweet sorrow” all refer to things you know so well that you’re sure you’d miss them. Yup, you might get nostalgic about nostalgia.
  30. You feel at home just about anywhere. Everywhere you go, you just fit. But, in a way, you don’t exactly remember what it feels like to be home.

    If other people can relate to the same set of things, maybe I’m not as weird as I’ve been told I am.

    One thing I feel weird about is that some of these traits sound self-aggrandizing. I kind of “left my humility at the door when I came in” but I still feel that associating myself with some of these things may make me sound like a self-serving snob.

    Ah, well…

    About enkerli

    French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast. View all posts by enkerli

    2 responses to “Third Culture Humor

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s

    %d bloggers like this: