Monday, January 19, 2015

What's the opposite of cosmopolitan?

I'm painfully aware of my foreignness in Guatemala. I mean the pain of self-consciousness and social anxiety. It's hard not to see that I'm out of place. I'm the wrong shape, and odd size, a mix of white and burn, with a noticeably non-Guatemalan beard. (I'm not sure whether the man who told me I have a nice beard, a very nice beard, at the gym was complimenting me, in awe, or taking the piss; I suspect it was the last.) I'm dressed in American clothes. I speak passable Spanish but with the wrong accent; my accent is porteƱo, but no one is mistaking me for an Argentine. It is barely possible that I'm not being stared at all the time, but there are more than a few side glances. And, when I greet people in the street, they are surprised. I'm not sure what they are surprised by, but something.
If I reflect though—as I did last night when I returned from not having dinner, having forgotten the book that would have been my companion—I realize I don't feel considerably more out of place here that I do at home. In the United States, my surroundings are more familiar. And, of course, I speak my native tongue. As my students remind me, I do that with an accent that most find strange. In the United States, I obviously know how to navigate, but I'm never comfortable doing so. There, too, I feel out of place, never quite right.
My philosophical commitments tell me I should be a cosmopolitan, a citizen of the cosmos. But, I can't manage feeling that. Nor do I feel the right connections to be a nationalist or a regionalist. I mean, I am an American and a Hoosier, but I'm no more comfortable around my own kind—are they my own kind—than I am among strangers.
But what do you call someone who feels himself to have no citizenship whatsoever?

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