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to be an expat

How can I even begin to explain the experiences of an expat?  The great assumption is that East and West are terribly different. One is vilified, the other painted as a land of patriots and heroes. One is crude and filthy the other has streets paved with gold. Look up and you will see miracles of architecture. Beyond the windows there are supposed to be good people, open smiles and warm hearts. How can I tell you that none of this is true? How can I untie my shoes, and somehow put them on your feet three thousand miles away? You would never believe what secrets they have to tell.

Every time I go back to the states I become more embarrassed to be an American. I overhear conversations in the street, the whines of privileged and moneyed voices. Coddled, dumbed-down and mislead they are drunk on a calculated fairly tale. And then back in Moscow, the same ignorance - the same questions from curious taxi drivers about how good it must be in America, where everything is possible and life mu…

talking to the trees


Most experiences cannot be discussed. No one wants to hear the ugly truth, and chances are you will be attacked for sharing it. To be able to speak freely means that you need a willing listener, otherwise you are just talking to the trees. Time and again I have come to understand that there is no difference between New York and Moscow, no difference between East and West. They are just cults of personality, built on violence and money and moral quicksand.

The life of an expat evolves from those early, awkward victories to one of assimilation or in cases like mine - eventually understanding that you have no country you can (or want to) call home. I am left with just these four walls and my family. This apartment is the only place I actually belong. This is the only place I do not need to soft-pedal my thoughts, where I do not need to apologize for what I have unearthed. The river of betrayal runs deep whether I look outside, or across the ocean. Willful ignorance, willful indifference, hate, fear, echo chambers, blind patriotism, blind faith, outright hostility - there is nothing new about them, but that does not remove their sting as you stumble across a fresh version of an old story.

The months march along, with identical waves of muddied half-truths that are gobbled up, spit out, reposted, shared and lionized by strangers. Shared next to diet tips, and promises for new ways to get rid of ear wax, next to targeted ads based your search history. It is very hard to say what actually changes, except for the price of milk, or oil. There is alway a war. There is always a dragon to slay. There is always a dumbed-down hero's welcome, a watered-down parade, a ship of fools, an army of reporters rushing to bless them or demonize them or forget how to pronounce their names - and then it is time for a commercial, it is time to shout about dandruff or a weekend getaway, or a celebrity wedding or maybe a divorce or what tragedy might be on the nightly news.

Or, you can talk to the trees on a day like today.


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