At times in life you must decide what pieces of yourself you’re planning to keep and which ones you’re alright with falling away. I consider language in particular. When I moved to New York to attend college, there were phrases I “lost” and phrases I gained. Moving back to PA I regained some of the aforementioned “lost.” Packing up for Indiana resulted in a similar end.
I have this specific concern of subconsciously losing. Knowing up front that I’m going to lose something, it’s possible to deal with it. But I’m scared of losing – language, theories, behavior – with no idea of the loss until too much time has passed.
But living in a new culture, you make some adjustments.
You’ll stop saying “US” and substitute “America.”
Once you hear “Salvos” enough times, “Salvation Army” isn’t easy off the tongue.
If it’s hot you’ll say “air con” instead of “air conditioner.”
Sticky tack is blue tack here. Just blue tack.
Markers are “texters,” college is “uni.”
And drive on the other side of the road, because everyone else is doing it.
(P.S. it’s the law.)
In some ways this is a self-defense mechanism. Why do we change ourselves when transplanted to a new culture, anyway? When I became a missionary I chose to be motivated by love, because I want to show the people I’m around that I care enough about them to identify with them. That’s my purposeful intent.
But by instinct, I’m also motivated by comfort. It may be amusing to have an accent but it can get uncomfortable and, frankly, inconvenient, to use words and phrases that no one understands. You should have seen how long it took to get a pitcher for the orange juice. My Australian friends say “jug” and never “pitcher,” whereas I say “pitcher” and sometimes “jug.”
Australians are perfectly willing to teach me (and tease me!), and I’m not opposed to correction. No, honestly, I don’t like to be told what to do – but who wouldn’t want to learn Australian? The part of me that hates that subconscious loss, however, is unenthused by vernacular.
Signing people into an Unshackled event two weeks ago, one of them asked me a question. I turned to an Unshackled team member and said, “Whadya reckon?”
Cue shock. Where do you reckon that came from?! This isn’t Texas.
On one hand it’s nice to adjust, even when it comes to small articles of linguistic conformity. It’s also lovely to consider the things I will subconsciously and consciously gain while I’m here. Not words alone, but relationships, habits, and new interests that will become a part of my personality forever hereafter. On the other hand I wish I knew now what I will lose by the time I leave Australia. Wish I could write them down now, find a way to build a statue of them, or create an equation representing each one. I just want to know. I’m OK with losing but I want to do it consciously. To lose is not a terror but not knowing is a bit of one.
Perhaps Elizabeth Bishop said it best in her well-known poem.
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,
…Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like a disaster.”
—Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”