Daily Life, Kenya, Nairobi, New York
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National Identity

In my last two posts, I discussed how I’m a little different. I grew up as a Third Culture Kid. I don’t have national allegiances. If I am anything, I am a New Yorker. This was always driven home (no pun intended) every time I left New York.

I am not always patient. I am very direct. I wear a lot of black. I walk fast. I’m hyper-efficient. I will root for any team playing against the Boston Red Sox. I am a New Yorker to the core and that has been clear for a long time.

What I didn’t realize until I moved to Nairobi is how American I am. I always thought of New Yorkers as different from the rest of America. In a great many ways, we are. But, I am more like the rest of the country than I had previously thought.

I make cultural references that are very American. I have certain values and attitudes that I hadn’t realized are inherent to America. I have mannerisms that are American.

In terms of cultural reference, the baseball reference mentioned above is not understood by anyone outside of the U.S. I’ve gotten a lot more conscious of the various sports-related phrases that I would often use. They make no sense to the rest of the world.

My pop culture is almost entirely American. Music is more global, but books and television are not very international. References to Seinfeld, Archie Bunker, Lost, and other American TV shows and persona draw blank stares. (The Germans here do know David Hasslehoff.) Yes, Amazon Prime, HBO and Netflix are bringing American Pop Culture to the rest of the world, but that’s a relatively new thing and it’s still limited. Game of Thrones is a worldwide hit. Dancing With The Stars is not (not sure it needs to be).

Values and attitudes vary greatly throughout America. But things like health and fitness are very American. Take a look at the U.S. diet and exercise industry if you don’t believe me.

I work out often and it’s important to me. I also am very aware of what we eat and make sure we’re healthy. Many of my healthy habits are seen as quirks to expats and locals alike in Nairobi. Yes, there are healthy people, but not as many as you’d find in the U.S.

Related to health, there are tons of smokers here. It is extremely American of me to be annoyed by the smokers. Smoking is no longer socially acceptable in my world home country. (Not to mention that my husband is a cancer survivor so I do not want secondhand smoke anywhere near us.) I am one of the few people not smoking and certainly the only one totally aghast at all the smoke. (We tend to avoid bars as a result.)

My mannerisms may still be more New York than American. I’ve tried to introduce color to my wardrobe but I still prefer black and gray. (I’ve been asked if I knew I dressed this way.) I have tried to slow my pace but I still walk faster than anyone else in this city. I still talk fast, or so I’m told.

So there you have it. I’m still a New Yorker. But I realize now that I am much more American than I had previously thought.

 

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