I’ve lived overseas several times and resided at 23 addresses overall if I was counting correctly. But the big question of home is answered by who I holler for during the World Cup.
by Kathryn Streeter
In Italy on vacation, I was struck by how obvious it was that I wasn’t Italian. For starters, if I were handcuffed I could still communicate; Italians need their hands as much as their tongues. They also use extraordinary facial contortions to deepen their point. They throw their whole body into communicating. As Americans living in London, we’ve run into a special kind of person who relishes the idea of being from nowhere because they are from everywhere. They are of an elite class known as citizens of the world, globetrotting from continent to continent. But reality doesn’t square with this detached notion. Last summer’s World Cup reminds us that we root for our country, regardless of the fact that our players have fat contracts with foreign teams. We grow crazy with clannishness because we like to belong. We are indeed part of a global world, but our passport is a starting point for who we are. It’s easily one of the first exchanges in London: Where are you from? In a largely international crowd, identifying with and being a fair-minded apologist for your home country displays the value of place and a vote against sameness. Never will there be a Citizen of the World passport holder. It’s a dangerous prescription that neutralizes the particular and helps assuage our guilt over a lack of familiarity, responsibility, ownership, and indebtedness to a place—belonging. Our Italian taxi driver reflected a sturdy understanding of this intersection between himself and where he was from by proudly waxing on about the enduring traditions of homemade limoncello and olive oil. Now if he could just keep his hands on the steering wheel.
Originally published in Comment, December 2010.