Thoughts on exile part 2
When I decided to move to London everything was planned beforehand. This was a professional choice, I came to finish my degree, I spoke the language, I had a room before I arrived and I knew a couple of people… Still it seemed much harder than going to Paris with only a thousand euros in my pocket knowing nothing at all. Maybe it’s easier to leave home to live in a new country when you’re nineteen considering it’s probably the first time you leave and apart from your family you don’t have a lot of attachments. You leave to begin something, the commencement of your adult life or some other phrase with a lot of ethos. When you’re twenty-five (even though that is not that old) you leave things behind, people, places, moments… But maybe it’s not a question of age, maybe it just depends on how attached you become to what you leave behind. Maybe it depends on your reason for leaving, if it’s a personal choice or a professional one. I spent a lot of time figuring out why I actually left Denmark behind, and why it’s so difficult for me today, to imagine a life back there. Was I running to something or running from something, and am I still running?
Maybe this would be a good time to bring up the question of freedom. If one were to agree with Vilém Flusser then freedom for the expelled is not a theoretical question but a practical one: We are prone to habit, to the ‘nostalgie de la bue’ the comfortable mud bath where it is nice to wallow, the fact that we will try to make it comfortable for ourselves wherever we are, roots or no roots. When we are expelled, or as in my case, when we expel ourselves we will feel estranged, different from others, we become outsiders. We will then try to create new roots in the new environment to fit in, to be like the others. The question is, is that ever possible and maybe as Flusser says freedom for the expelled is exactly that, to be able to remain a stranger. If you follow his argument; to continually be a stranger also means that you will be able to experience the freedom of changing yourself and others… Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s just trying to find some release from the fact that continually being a stranger is hard.
I sometimes wish I was one of those people who has it all figured out. They finish college then they start university, they find a mate, they buy a house in a nice suburb, they get married maybe they have kids or buy a fluffy golden retriever and then they commute to work everyday… Sometimes I wish I was like that, taking the easy way, settling down. Sometimes I even find myself being a little jealous of my friends who have always been like that. I’m jealous for a split second, but then when I imagine myself in that little cute house, following all the rules, putting steak knives on my wishing list for Christmas, I just see a huge angry bull in a china-shop. Maybe some people need to expel themselves, need to feel expelled, to feel different. But then when does being expelled becomes habit, when does your estrangement evolve into your nostalgie de la boue…? Maybe it is never that simple, or maybe this is just a passing feeling. It is certain however that when we feel like ‘the other’ we try our best to blend in with the crowd.
I distinctly remember one night in Paris, one of the first times when I thought I started to blend in with the population. This was probably in my second year as a bachelor student so I already spoke and wrote fluent French. A friend was doing a theater piece, a mix between theater and stand-up comedy and I really found it funny. Just that seemingly insignificant detail, I laughed because I understood, and the jokes were all in French. Now there is a thing about humor, it is probably the thing that is most difficult to understand when you switch over to another culture. Humor depends on the language, on the collective history of the given culture and sometimes also of the political history. To be able to understand jokes and insider jokes in another language is hard. For me that night was the first time I really thought I was getting a hang of it, a great victory in my small world, and this just because of a couple of jokes. Because it is not easy to fit in, in a new world. My first two years in Paris were great but I deliberately remained a stranger to an everyday life any other French person would have had in the same time, and I was happy like that. Then people moved and all the international people I used to know were suddenly gone and I realized that even though I knew people all around the world, nothing stable, no roots tied me to that new place, where suddenly again I was all alone. I learned to sift through my friendships and ended up having mostly French friends, they weren’t going anywhere and I could thus start building new roots.
I don’t know if one can ever really fit in, in another culture. After seven years in Paris I still had days where I felt apart, and now in London everything is just getting started. Or take Vilém Flusser who lived most of his life in Brazil but always remained the old European. When he writes about exile you can feel that his text comes from someone who desperately tried to fit it, because that’s what we do whatever the reason for our exile. It is almost as if he tries to give exile a purpose, to make it more bearable. Maybe to him, to myself, maybe to some people estrangement is a necessary part of one day being able to settle down, maybe some people never settle down. I am slowly starting to find foothold in my new place, after now almost a year in London things are slowly shifting. Aircrafts have become London to me, they make me feel at home now. I don’t expect to blend in with Brits any time soon and I don’t think I want to. For the moment I am an outsider and I am holding on to that for a little while longer. I am not sure choosing your own exile, or expelling yourself necessarily gives you more freedom than someone who will do the opposite, but I do think that if you can learn how to, you can turn your own expulsion into your greatest strength.