Living in a foreign country and culture has many rewards (I’m always going on and on about them, so you should know them well by now), but one aspect that will always be a challenge for the foreigner is to truly understand the country they live in, especially if it’s only for a short period of time.
After five years in Germany I feel like I had only just started to understand Germans and German culture before I left. I had quite a few German friends, and (just barely) spoke the language, which made a huge difference. When I was living in Germany, I really felt like that was my home, even though it was only temporary. After moving to Malaysia, I’m finding the things I miss most here are the same things that used to drive me crazy in Germany. I guess that means that I eventually did adapt (mostly) to the local culture. Still, I would never claim to be an expert on German culture or pretend that I understand the deeper aspects of being German. After all, I was just living there as an expat.
Now, here in Malaysia, I’m finding it even more difficult to get to the cultural roots of this country. Yes, people are very friendly, and yes, everyone speaks English. But, I know very few local Malaysians and (unintentionally) do not really participate in local cultural activities. I think part of it is because of our very obvious physical differences. I can pass for German (with Turkish roots), but I’m not so sure anyone would ever mistake me for a Malaysian (Indian, Chinese, or Malay). I feel very comfortable here, but I could never honestly say that I “fit in.” Well, I “fit in” with all the expats, and there are a ton of us here, but certainly not with the locals. It’s just too easy for me (and my white skin) to stand out.
Anyway, the reason I’m writing about all of this is because I think blogging has opened up a new window to the culture of the local community. It used to be that you had to know someone local to find out about local politics or culture. But, now we can actually read all about these things, from a personal point of view, on other people’s blogs. I love it! The last time I posted on my blog, the WordPress Dashboard linked to another blog that had just been updated, which coincidentally was about Malaysian politics (and of course links to so many other blogs about Malaysia). I recently started looking for cooking blogs (thanks to Jinna’s inspiration) and found this wonderful blog by a German-American (I think) couple living in Munich (I wish I had known about it while I lived there!), which has enabled me to find other cooking-related blogs by local authors in various countries. And, yesterday I stumbled across Expat Blog, which has links to lots of blogs by expats (including mine), but many of those link to local blogs.
Ah, this interconnected web we weave. It’s so exciting!