‘We care locally.’
That three-word profundity comes from a weblog written by Joe Posnanski, a sports writer whose work I enjoy.
Joe has just returned to the USA from Japan after covering Japanese baseball’s version of the World Series. He made the comment in reference to the deeply uninterested reactions he received when he tried to convey to his associates the wonders he’d witnessed in Japan. He actually was there to see the unprecedented phenomenon of two pitchers combining to throw a perfect game, and it --
Let’s stop right there: thanks for reading this far, but you don’t really care about Joe, or the Japanese World Series, or what I think about either of them, do you? You didn't follow those links. You’re wishing already that I move on to some more interesting and relevant topic.
Well, that’s just the point: for most of us, our range of interests is relatively narrow, and we’re far more interested in the places we live, or at least have visited, than we are in even the most exotic place we’ve never seen.
This can be an unpleasant lesson for expatriates to learn. We move overseas, and the first months and even years of our overseas experience are so exciting for us, so vivid, so often lived with an intensity of emotion we’ve rarely felt at other times in our lives. And then we make our first trips back to our hometowns, or the place we’d lived before moving overseas, and we meet up with friends or relatives. We’re just bursting with stories to tell, experiences to recount, emotions (forgive me, O high priests of good taste) to share.
Our home-country visits often start off well: our moms or our siblings or our life-long friends are truly happy to see us; they hug us, and tell us we look just fine, then they sit us down and say ‘Now, tell me all about your new life!’
So we plunge in, and do just what they say. Right at first, their eyes glisten, their heads nod, and their mouths hang gently open at the wonder of it all. Yet uncomfortably soon we notice their eyes flicking, just once, over to the oven where cookies are baking; or at the street, where a car has just passed; or – making us feel really special and valued – at a mobile phone, which doesn’t happen to be ringing . . . .
So we blame ourselves. The eager expat thinks: ‘I am doing such a poor job telling this story! I am being boring. I will stop talking so much about myself and how I felt about the things I’ve done and seen, and say more about the sumptuous details of my exotic new home – I’ll describe the colors, and the flavors, and the sounds, and yes, yes, the smells!’
And, with redoubled effort, we try again. This time, we notice that our friend is unusually diligent in keeping the teapot filled with hot water . . . she claims to hear Napoleon III (the family’s pet hamster) squeaking in distress, and jumps up to investigate . . . . finally, when she returns, she breaks in and says ‘So when you were over there didja hear about that Bernice Buxom who was in the class below us in school who ran off last month with the guy who catered the 40th birthday party she was throwing for her husband Bruce?’
It’s not really that bad, of course – most people are actually quite polite, and a few may be genuinely interested in our expat exploits.
But the cruel truth is, as my man Joe has learned, we care locally.
And like Joe, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. I love talking about my overseas experiences, but I realized early on that I had to rein myself in pretty severely when back in the USA.
So here are just a few dos and don’ts I’ve accumulated over the years.
Most of us Hong Kong expats are unable to visit home as often as we would like. We should try to make sure our time with friends and family is as pleasant and productive as we can make it.