Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

All through the book, the one question that kept pestering me was, ‘What kept me from reading Bill Bryson for so long?’ Seriously, I cannot figure it out. But then, I’ve done it before as well. I kept away from Harry Potter. No idea why. Just stayed away from it. And then when I did read one, finished four books in four straight nights. Sigh! But better late than never, right?

I picked up this book on a lark, as this was the only interesting book I could find in my apartment complex’s library.

After living in England for twenty years, Bill Bryson moves back to America, his home country. He finds himself a stranger in his own country. The book is a compilation of articles that he wrote for a newspaper about his experiences in America.

I found it extremely funny and loved his sense of humour. A lot of his sentiments, I could identify with because when you move back into your home country after some years abroad, so many things seem different. The things you enjoyed and cherished might not even be part of your new experiences. The reverse culture shock that is part and parcel of moving back to a place after spending time away from it. Having gotten used to the British way of life and terminology, he struggles to remember/find out the American equivalent of things. His British wife and children, though, seem to love America while he seems to be the one having the most difficult time. Rediscovering America with it’s joys and it’s trials, all the while poking fun at himself and others around him, it was a fun read. I chuckled through the book.

Some of the chapters, though did seem dated, after all , this book was written in 1999. Some chapters about computers for instance remind you that this book is of another time. But for most part, it is Bryson’s style of poking fun at the things he observes that stands out. The sentiments and the humour, I have to say, are timeless. Reading the reviews of the book, I realize that this might be one of his not-so-great books. If that is indeed true, I can’t wait to read his other books.

Immigrants or Expats?

This post has been picked as one of Blogadda’s Spicy Saturday Picks. Thank you Blogadda

Pal’s post reminded me of some of the terminology which I get annoyed with.

Have you noticed how people from developing nations, living in other wealthier countries, are automatically termed as ‘immigrants’, while people from wealthier nations living in less privileged nations are mainly called ‘expats‘. The assumption is that if you are from a less privileged nation, you are more than likely to be an immigrant, that you are ready to cast off your original nationality and look to live in a foreign country permanently. I come across these two terms in lots of places, magazine articles, blogs, forums.. and always in the manner that I have mentioned above.

While there are plenty of people who do look to living in wealthier countries, there are several people who are genuinely expatriates, even if they do come from developing nations. Our IT consultants, for instance. We travel to so many countries, on projects, and most do return back to the home country. Going by the definition, most of us are expatriates rather than immigrants. Granted, some of us do choose to stay back in other countries, but most don’t. Most of us complete our work on the projects, and return , or travel somewhere else. Yet, the assumption is that we are all immigrants.

I know that they are just words, but to some extent, I do feel that it indicates how the world perceives people, based on their country of origin. I have heard of second or third generation immigrants asked, where they come from. And people like us asked, ‘Why’, when we talk about our plans to return to our country. I would doubt if the same questions would be raised if expatriates living in countries like India would be subject to that question, even if the quality of life that some expatriates(by their own admission) have there, is much better than in their home countries.

Then again, not every body thinks like this. I had some colleagues who were very conversant with life in different countries. They were well-travelled and well-read, and would not make such assumptions.

While I do understand the reason why such generalizations happen, it still bugs me when people assume that we live abroad because we do not have such a wonderful life back home. Sometimes, you just end up living in a place. People from all over the world, move to different countries, based on different factors, be it careers, spouses, or just looking for a different sort of life. Sometimes, life is too settled to upset, even if you know that there are several other advantages back at home. Sometimes people just go with the flow, and live abroad. Some actively seek the nationality of their current country – making them the real immigrants.

Another word, which annoys me even more,  is the word, ‘natives’. Someone was once telling me that they heard people being addressed as ‘natives’ in a professional setting – where people ought to have known better. For some reason, it is applied only to the developing world. I don’t hear it being applied to people in the western world. Aren’t they just as ‘native’ to their own country? Yet, somehow, the word ‘native’ seems to come into use mainly in the context of less developed countries.

Are these terms just used for convenience, just a leftover of the older order? The colonial times, when everybody else was the ‘natives’ and later became the ‘immigrants’?  I hope so. And I also hope that we reach a point where irrespective of whichever country we come from, we would not be part of a generalization of this sort. After all, that should be what globalization is all about, right?