Kilkenny Ireland, mid-2006
People used to ask me "why?"
It happened first when I was first out of the States. "Why are you here?" The tone was often lightly suspicious, and even proto-judgemental. The questioning, in my perception, had subtext and implication and it was not benevolent. And I heard this inquiry with a frequency that was progressively irritating, imposing, then tedious, and dulling.
Several days after I wrote this page, somebody else asked me the apparently-inevitable "what are you doing here?"
I told him I was tired of hearing that question."*
People don't ask me anymore. Things changed. America, still the land of opportunity, doesn't have the emotional cachét that it used to have. People don't love America the way they used to; even if they still want it.
When I lived in Amsterdam [May-December '00,] Amsterdamers were incredulous I'd want to live there. This was partly due to the apatriotic nature of the locals, but partly also to the popular ideas about what it's like in America. No matter that American tourists can be annoying, America was the place to be, for opportunity if nothing else.
Nobody bothered me about it in Spain. I can't analyze that beyond the statement of fact. [I lived in Seville from December '00 to June '01.]
In Ireland, I found the phenomenon again, and particularly amongst immigrants. It was as if Ireland were a land in which they could improve their financial situation, but their dreams were of America. And me, being American why would I come to Ireland? It made me uncomfortable, and I never could explain, and I always had a bit of a sense that I was under suspicion.
Of course, now, people tend to have a little more respect and understanding of American expatriatism. The planes and the bombs have had no effect upon my travels and if I am "expatriate" it's only because I've gone away from my country and not gone back yet.
But other peoples' questions about my motives in travel have changed. It used to be inconceivable to some people that a person holding an American passport would want to leave there. I don't know how people feel about that now. But they've stopped asking."*
* A couple of months later, I was fielding a lot of telephone calls, trying to find a sublet housemate. I talked with a fellow from West Meath who seemed a good candidate, and we agreed to meet one day hence.
But, in the course of our conversation he'd asked me "how did you end up here?"
From the memory of that one question, spoken in that one way, I began to think more skeptically about him.
He didn't meet me the next day. I rang him; he'd forgotten. I reminded him that I wasn't doing this for fun. He apologized, said he'd get back in touch, and never did.
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