Sometimes I think, ‘Yep, I’ve adapted. I am one with Croatian culture.’ I’m wearing slippers, closing windows, drinking coffee slowly, speaking as much Croatian as possible when I’m out and about, and even enjoying soup. FISH SOUP (which I used to only read about in novels). And then I realize that, nope, I’ve still got a long way to go. I might think of Croatia as home, but that doesn’t mean it always feels like home.
In a given conversation, no matter how fluent my interlocutor is in English, or how smooth my Croatian is flowing, I feel as if I’m heartbeat behind fully comprehending what is actually going on. There is a lag between what is transpiring and my comprehension of it. The cultural nuance of conversation is always there, murmuring in the background, like a faint hum that I must listen for. While its soft whispers are what I so easily miss. My intensive focus on these illusive cues serves to take me away, ever so slightly, from the present moment. It is just a half-second of displacement, but this is enough to add a significant amount of distraction that any conversation has an unnatural gait to it.
Sometimes, I imagine I could just get on a plane and fly back to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and converse with the flow of a person walking confidently. There, in a land I’ve mostly repudiated, a place whose politics I despise, whose borders I once dreamed of escaping, I could at least understand everything. Each utterance, every speck of nuance I could observe and compute on instinct. There would be no delay in my mental processing power. There would be no distance between me and the now. No half spaces of uncertainty, no heartbeat breaths of pause. I would know, and by knowing I would be home.
At times when I feel this despondency, when I throw myself a homesick pity party and ‘walk’ the streets I grew up on with google maps, I think about all the diaspora who have gone before me. I think of all those Croats living abroad in America, Australia, Germany and Ireland. Whole lives abroad, from a place they likely felt much more connect to than I did to Oklahoma. Then I wonder do they too feel like outsiders. Or have they some how adapted, altered their cultural DNA to fit their adopted homeland like a human adapting to some alien world. And I guess my question is, does it ever go away? Or are you always an outsider?