Monday, December 10, 2007

It's hard for me to say these words in a way that more appropriately corresponds to my WASPy looks.

This post from Nicholas Manning's blog called "Things Never to Say to an Expat" made me laugh. I agree with him on most accounts, but I admit that I miss the clear sense of displacement that being an expat gave me. Unlike Nicholas, I've never been an expat in a place where there was even a remote possibility of me blending in.

It's quite strange now to find myself actually living in a small beach town in Southern California--a place people frequently assume I'm from. For much of my life, people have been saying obvious, stereotypical things about women, the US, and California to me, often while leering or asserting moral superiority.

I got in a debate with someone at a bookstore in La Jolla about whether or not I'd gone to high school locally and whether or not I'd been a cheerleader. I didn't and I wasn't, but the man thought I was insulting him and didn't believe me. That same man also said a variety of other stupid things, including "Spanish is a language for children." He owns a coffee plantation somewhere in Central America.

On some level, I'd probably feel more comfortable, or at least just as uncomfortable, spending more time in the Spanish-speaking communities here. The fact that the Spanish and English speaking communities are so segregated was something I didn't expect before moving here--I expected it to be more like LA, but what did I know. I think the conservative culture and the close proximity of the Mexico-US border make some Spanish speakers justifiably touchy about who they speak their language with and where and when they do it. In DC, I spoke Spanish in places where other people spoke Spanish. No one at the market around the corner from where we lived was offended if I asked what kind of tamales they had in Spanish. I'd never do that around here.

In some ways Spanish and the various cultures that come with it are mainstream here in San Diego--more than half of our place names are in Spanish, and most of the geographic terms for this part of the country are Spanish words. When I first arrived, I pronounced all the place names as if they were Spanish words, which they are/were, but no one understood me or people involuntarily corrected my pronunciation.

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