cultural identity

The New Quiet Man

I was recently invited to one of the many celebrations that take place in country towns around Ireland on the August Bank Holiday weekend.

While we were there, surrounded by excited chatting, laughter and live music, one of the other guests became silent.

Noticing my inquisitive glance, he shared an observation with me;
“It’s funny,” he began, “how, when you’ve been away for five years, you get used to analysing how people from different countries interact with each other. When I think of coming back to Ireland, I look forward to being able to simply chat with people. But here, now that I’ve come back to rural Ireland for a visit, I find myself observing people once again. I’ve forgotten how Irish people interact.”

During the weekend, from time to time he compared his own home place (also in rural Ireland) to where we were. Although we didn’t speak more about this particular moment, his words have stayed with me. He originally moved away to do a postgrad, and has lived abroad ever since.

As more and more of my friends are moving away, this is something I have started to wonder about. How you see your country will change once you live somewhere else, of course. This, I think, can only be a good thing. “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page”, as one quote goes.

But this is something markedly different. It seems that with emigration comes the chance that you may find yourself alienated a little on your return.

It reminds me of those identity crises so beloved by literature theorists. The ‘blurred boundaries’ phenomenon that can apply to anything from nationality, race, sexual orientation or gender. While rich in material to explore and interrogate from an academic point of view, I doubt they are as satisfying to experience first hand.

To my friends abroad – I hope ye don’t find yourselves silent observers too often, if ever, on your visits home. We Irish are known for our eloquence. A feeling of alienation shouldn’t change this on any emigrant’s return.