An Ordinary American

“The thought of becoming an ordinary American again scares me. We expatriates don’t like to admit it, but being foreign makes us feel special.”

Pamela Druckerman, An American Neurotic in Paris: The New York Times, 27 Nov. 2013.

One of the things I really like about living in Morocco is that I feel that I like myself better when I’m here.  I like that I am more thoughtful about my surroundings, my relationships, and my place in society.  I like having frequent opportunities to speak other languages, and I like meeting people who have backgrounds different from my own.  I like hearing about other peoples’ experiences and explaining my own path to where I am now.  I like that I can meet other Americans and realize that we have things in common, but also that we have a lot of differences.


It’s true, though, that when we are abroad we are in many ways extraordinary, which definitely does lend a feeling of being a little bit special.  Here are some things that make the life of an expat feel remarkable.
  • Nearly every day, at least one man tells me that I am beautiful/a princess/the love of his life/a spice girl.
  • Going shopping is much more exciting.  The foods are slightly different, and it’s fun to use new brands or even just to have packaging of American brands that are written partly in Arabic.  When I find something that I have missed, even if it’s something small (like decaf black tea) it’s really exciting.
  • Nobody forgets who I am.  A neighbor of mine whom I had never seen before helped me replace my gas, and he knew exactly which apartment I live in.  I’m easy to remember when I’m the only foreigner.
  • If you don’t fit in, you can just chalk it up to culture.  If you don’t fit in to your neighborhood, it’s because you’re the only foreigners.  Unlike in America, where we would rarely claim to not fit in based on where we are from since everyone is from a different place anyway.
  • Most people back in the US think of Morocco as an exotic and mystical land.  I don’t think there is much awareness of Morocco among Americans, so whenever I said I was going to live in Casablanca, I could tell people were imagining me having cocktails with Humphrey Bogart every Saturday night.

    The Rick's Café in Casablanca is actually just a restaurant for tourists - the movie was filmed in a studio in the US!

    The Rick’s Café in Casablanca is actually just a restaurant for tourists – the movie was filmed in a studio in the US!

  • You have to think more about what it means to be you.  For example, being American means eating turkey on Thanksgiving.  But I’ve only ever eaten Thanksgiving turkey twice, both times in Morocco and so now associate that tradition with Morocco.  So I am like other Americans in celebrating Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean that I have had exactly the same experience as everyone else.
My first American thanksgiving

My first American thanksgiving

I’m not sure when I’ll be okay with being an ordinary American again.  There are a lot of things I’d miss about Morocco, but I’ll admit that I would also miss that feeling of being a little bit special!


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