What Does It Mean To Be Foreign?

via Daily Prompt: Foreign


Graphic comes from livingwaterlutheran.com via Bing

I wonder if the word foreign might eventually be redundant?

Where I grew up in England, my mother from Derbyshire, father from Nottinghamshire, we had dialects, and there were inflections and local flavours within regions and districts, you were foreign if yo came from 10 miles away. I was once asked by an Australian work colleague to translate what a tradie from Yorkshire was saying, he assumed, even though I had migrated as a mere child, I’d know! What astounded me was that it didn’t seem that difficult to understand what said tradie was saying. In Australia, there are subtle accents between east and west, and a variety of indigenous languages. Across this vast land there is also a sense of the local, which has become important across activities such as sport, politics, but especially federal funding.

I was once appointed to serve three towns. I was based in a main centre and would visit the other two on a rota. Once, while in the smaller of the three towns, on market day, I got chatting to some people who were passing through. One of the locals who knew me joined the conversation. At some point one of the visitors asked if I was a local. The local said I was not, and I said I did. There ensued one of those useless exchanges – no you’re not, yes I am. This went on for a split second or two with much positioning and my answer’s better than yours. The true local pointing out that I lived 45kms away in the big town. At some point the visitor asked what I meant. People really shouldn’t ask me questions, it gets tricky, I love to engage, I’m passionate about what I believe so they should be warned.

Little did the visitor know I had been waiting a lifetime for this question.

My answer: I’m local to Australia. Blank stares all round. Then the penny dropped. Derision followed. I never did convince them. Apparently you have to come from somewhere, belong somewhere, be part of something, or the nation, the world, cannot function.

I belong to a small circle of friends who firmly hold to the notion that we belong to each other, and not to any flag, state, or bounded ideal. We don’t much care for petty idealism, sabre rattling politics, flag waving jingoism, or some hyped pride based on place or space. Besides, those beliefs and behaviours have not got us very far.

As the graphic suggests, I’m more for reaching out and taking the hand of another, irrespective of any standard defining characteristics, be they colour, belief, birth country, sexual orientation, class, income, education, and etc. The word foreign is a divisive word, intentionally so, as it defines if you’re from round here or not. I accept that people take pride in where they’re from, and that they need to have conenction and identity, but I wonder if we can dial that back a bit, and focus on being present to hospitality, need, helping, journeying with the other? As is often said, we need to look for what we have in common rather than what divides us.

One of my main influences in life has been music. I have particularly admired Peter Gabriel, formerly of Genesis, who helped pioneer World Music in the late 70s as a fusion of styles and genres working together. Paul Simon has encouraged working with artists from other cultures, notably his album Graceland was founded on this ideal. Robert Plant has similarly worked with and encouraged artists from all over the world.

I was never a diehard Glen Campbell fan, but this song was influential in my thinking. It makes a great point: if we see our brother/sister standing by the road, carrying a heavy load, then it’s up to us to help share the load, to enable the other to get by, to get along. The refrain, “You’ve got to try a little kindness …” is perfect for our world. If we show a little kindness, then the definition foreign becomes redundant, and all people are from round here.

These days I’m local to the globe …





Filed under community, life, Philosophy/Theology, politics

32 responses to “What Does It Mean To Be Foreign?

  1. great words of wisdom, embrace diversity as we are all precious!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. judetripp

    Th anks for this, Paul. I’ve been reading the novel Exit West which has the magical realist device that doors suddenly appear throughout the world where eg Syrian refugees can arrive in Central London, Dutch octagenerians end up in Brazil…not all easy, but such a fascinating challenge to belong. Thought you might be interested, thank you for helping me feel belonging in Bunbury. Judith

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We are not such big planet that the division spawned by the idea of being foreign should encourage anything but interest. Having lived as a foreigner in another country, and being now a Yorkshire lass in England’s south…traditionally, about as foreign as it gets… I have always found myself exploring and enjoying the differences, rather than railing against them. They make for a richer life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We’re all local to the planet

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So wonderful to have friends who are beyond flags, worshipped rags, or idealistic snags! 🙂 John Lennon’s Imagine song sits very deep in my heart! 🙂 Neil Pert’s lyrics (in the rock group Rush) also are very appreciated, as are the lyrics of Yes and the early Jethro Tull (like the superb Thick as a Brick album).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nasuko

    In Japan,there are small communities,too☺️🌸

    Liked by 1 person

  7. MNL

    Lovely essay. I do like the idea of local/native when it’s used to encourage preservation of arts, crafts and history because it’s easy for that to get dumped in favor of a more famous art/craft/history in another part of the United States or world. I don’t like the idea of local/native vs foreign as a way to ostracize or set apart people, especially when they are new moving into an area. Or as a way of saying that other people are not as good if they are from another area. (Growing up in the air force we moved every two years. I was baffled the first time I attended school offbase and met with hostility from a few people only because I was different and from somewhere else. Not a lot of Asian Americans in Salinas, Kansas, apparently) Homogeneity is dangerous too and a trap a lot of immigrants fall into trying to fit into their new home country. Neither my sister nor I can cook Okinawan foods because mom wanted us to be accepted as Americans. Things she could have taught us was lost. Dad’s grandmom came from Norway and we have no knowledge of Norwegian culture or foods. Acknowledging and learning different cultures and trying to be aware of how they are different is important in a world grown very small — and equally important, I think, is finding words that says “different from” without being perjorative or doesn’t become perjorative. A balance between keeping different cultural bits and yet belonging to/being connected to each other as part of interconnected circles — i think i went on too long but hope it’s understandable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with that wholeheartedly, the local culture is important particularly as you explain. Saddened by your loss of culture, and that whole difference thing grates on me. Very understandable, and I’m glad you took the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lyn Cannon

    Excellent – my sentiment too


    Liked by 1 person

  9. good music. i didn’t know that about Peter Gabriel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, he’s been a quiet and tireless supporter of world music, pouring his own time and money into it. He was regular fave guest at the Adelaide WOMAD show in Australia for a long time, much loved in Africa.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi pv – great topic. While I very much embrace the idea of being a local earthling (I’m in Cape Town), I have been becoming aware of the limitations (and in fact disaster) of unrooted globalism where we do not share the commitment to a locality required by a sustainable vision of the future. So as much as I am a global citizen I am also a localist activist.

    BTW I love your awareness of Gabriel, Simon and Plant as real mensch leaders in respectful celebratory engagement with “otherness”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Nic, many thanks for taking time to reflect and comment, yes, local roots but yet somehow not binary, capturing local and global, just how to influence others. Glad to have your view.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I never liked the word foreign. We are all foreign to someone else.


  12. Ramon Rabie

    Nice one, Paul. Honest and to the point.

    Liked by 1 person

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