|"The Semi-Invisible Traveler,"|
by Bruno Catalano (Camden Arts Centre, UK)
In the previous post, we became acquainted with Eddie Expat, who has seen an elephant or two in his time — and lived to tell the tale. But for the final phase of this discussion, we will turn our attention to Ramona Repat, who unlike Eddie has packed in the elephant-seeking adventure and trundled back to the land of her birth.
You might think that knowing something of Eddie's story would help you to anticipate what Ramona will have to say for herself. But think again. Just as the expatriate's life is another country (or two), the repatriate's life is another country (or three).
#1: Time to Define "Seeing the Elephant" … Encyclopedic version
#1a: Time to Define "Seeing the Elephant" ... Reader's Digest, Twitter, Movie Trailer, and Crib Notes versions
#2: How to Recognize at a Glance Someone Who Has Seen an "Elephant" ... Meet Eddie Expat
Ramona Repat is back in the United States after a decade-and-a-half in other countries. I invited her to be a guest blogger, but she prefers to have me speak on her behalf as she has family matters to attend to, which she neglected during her time abroad. Ramona says it has taken her some years to come to grips with the challenges of repatriation — also known as "reverse culture shock" or "reentry syndrome." What follows is a summary of her key observations.
MEET RAMONA REPAT
Ramona's Top Ten Observations on Repatriation:
|"The Prodigal Son,"|
by Gerard van Honthorst (1623)
My father glooms and advises me,In Ramona's view, repats would do well to rise above their personal histories in acknowledging all those who have, in essence, underwritten their elephant-seeking adventures:
My brother sulks and despises me,
And Mother catechises me
Till I want to go out and swear.
- Your family couldn't always depend on you for support at critical moments, as you were too far away to be physically present (being present in spirit isn't always enough).
- The government had to sacrifice some portion of your income (as you didn't pay much in taxes).
- Politicians couldn't rely on your support for their campaigns (at most, you probably voted by absentee ballot, and only in the presidential election years).
- The working world had to carry on without the benefit of your input and experience.
- The environment, too, suffered: all that galavanting around the world has left an untidy carbon footprint.
|Statue of Rip Van Winkle, Irvington, NY|
4) But if Rip Van Winkle is a convenient role model for many repats, Ramona recommends taking a look at the Chinese version of the tale, which in some ways rings truer to their circumstances than Washington Irving's. Irving based his story on an old German folk tale of a goatherd named Peter Klaus, who awakens from a 20-year slumber after drinking fairy wine on the Kyffhäuser Mountain, to find his village dramatically changed. (This tale has parallels to the old Jewish story about Honi M'agel.) But in the Taoist tale that was told in ancient China, a woodcutter ventures into a forest and encounters two old men playing go (weiqi). He falls into a trance and when he comes out many years later, his axe handle has rotted to dust. Japanese (who also have their own Rip Van Winkle, Urashima Tarō) found the Chinese story fascinating, as evidenced by this 9th-century poem conveying the woodcutter's thoughts upon returning to his village:
I've come back home.Ramona, too, can relate to the woodcutter's feeling of longing. Seeing elephants is an all-absorbing adventure beyond compare. Is it any wonder that so many repats become permanent malcontents? Ramona has to keep reminding herself not to come across as a Ra-MOAN-a.
There is no friend to play go with.
That place far away
where an axe handle turned to dust -
how dear to me it has become!
Seeing the Elephant: Understanding Globalization from Trunk to Tail. The book concerns global financial strategy, but its title really spoke to Ramona. She recalls saying to herself: "Okay, so you've seen everything from trunk to tail. But how do you go back to seeing just trunk again — or being around others who do?" (Not surprisingly, the book was on the half-price table.)
6) As a result, most repats end up with an elephant (or two, or three) in the room. They refrain from speaking out on issues they feel passionately about for fear of being labeled raving lunatics. Ramona, for instance, still can't get over how many cars there are on the roads compared to when she left, of which an unacceptably high proportion are SUVs. In her day, only the military and the police were allowed to drive such gas-guzzling vehicles. How she would love to get up on her soapbox and preach about her years of living in countries where people get around perfectly well using public transport and driving fuel-efficient cars. But she knows full well that, by the time she has cleared her throat, most of her listeners will have bolted for their Range Rovers.
Ramona Quimby, that rambunctious 8-year-old heroine. Ramona projects she will leave Portland eventually.)
|Isabella Bird, 19th-c. explorer|
(print by Stephen Alcorn, 1991)
9) But despite the many trials and tribulations, Ramona urges new arrivals to have faith in the repatriation process. Cultivating your own back garden can be immensely entertaining after so many years on foreign soil. When she first got home, Ramona spent hours roaming the aisles of her local drugstore, supermarket, and bookstore, feeling like a kid in a candy store. And who knew that the U.S. had so many superb vacation spots on its borders? "Mexico and Canada, here we come!" she is fond of exclaiming.
10) A fan of cinema, Ramona is also not one to shy away from the grand gesture, and she thinks the grandest gesture of all for an elephant seeker is to come back home. So what if you have to eat humble pie and spend some years carving out a new niche for yourself in your homeland? "Hang it all, you've seen an elephant!" The words of the farmer whose cart got knocked over by the circus parade are a mantra that has sustained Ramona through her readjusting pains. Not to mention the idea that if all else fails, she can go abroad again and work on a sequel ... (Joke! Ramona insists she is here to stay, even if it necessitates frequent visits to the pachyderm house in the local zoo.)
Question for repats: Can you relate to Ramona's story? Has she left anything out?
Question for expats: Can you imagine coming home again after hearing what Ramona has to say, or has she scared you off completely? (Pls note: That was not her intention!)