“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
— Maya Angelou
Since I wrote that post about personality types and their corresponding countries, a lot of you have found this site through google-searching “Where in the world do I belong?” or “My country doesn’t match my personality type.”
Apparently, there are quite a number of you who feel as though the stork got lost while on his way to say, Fiji and dropped you off in Finland or France or Fallujah instead. Well, that sucks. And I hear ya. I’ve often wondered if a country like Spain (with it’s siestas and 36-day of yearly paid vacation time) wouldn’t perhaps have been a better cultural fit for my vagabond ways than my motherland (Land of the Free, Home of the Work-Enslaved).
The author of the book Geography of Bliss: One Grumps Search for the Happiest Places in the World, Eric Weiner, has a term for this. He refers to people who’ve found a better cultural fit in a country other than their birth-place, ‘hedonic refugees’. As he explains, hedonic refugees are “not political refugees, escaping a repressive regime, nor economic refugees, crossing a border in search of a better-paying job. They are hedonic refugees, moving to a new land, a new culture, because they are happier there. Usually, hedonic refugees have an epiphany, a moment of great clarity when they realize, beyond a doubt, that they were born in the wrong country.”
For me, that epiphany came when I was 15. I’d just returned from spending a summer studying abroad in Chiba, Japan and although I knew that Japan wasn’t where I was meant to spend the rest of my life, I knew without a doubt that the US wasn’t either. While my peers were busy plotting what they’d wear to prom, I was in the school library pouring over the encyclopedia and plotting future trips to Paris and Peru. ‘Operation: Move Abroad and Live Happily Ever After’ was in full-swing and now, 30 countries and 13 years later, it’s nowhere near completion. I still haven’t found a country to call ‘home’ and I’m beginning to think that I never will. Which, perhaps, at least according to Eric Weiner, isn’t such a bad thing.
“What to do with this information?” He asks after detailing the phenomenon of ‘cultural fit’. “Should we administer cultural-compatibility tests to high school students, the way we used to test for career compatibility? I can imagine the phone call from the school guidance counselor. “Hi, Mrs. Williams, we’ve tested little Johnnie and determined that he would fit in perfectly in Albania. He’d really be much happier there. A flight leaves at 7:00 p.m. Should I go ahead and make that booking for you?
Of course not. Just because the culture fits doesn’t mean we should wear it, and, besides, every society needs its cultural misfits. It is these people – those who are partially though not completely alienated from their own culture – who produce great art and science. Einstein, a German Jew, was a cultural misfit. We all benefit from Einstein’s work…”
He has a point. I imagine that if I ever did manage to find a country filled with people identical in personality to me, I probably wouldn’t want to live there. If such a country existed, I’d imagine that it probably wouldn’t fare too well for the simple fact that there’d never be anyone there to run-it. At any given time, half of the country’s population would probably be sitting in a park somewhere in London or Los Angeles and on every restaurant or storefront window would read the sign: “Gone on a vacation break. Be back in 5-10 days”.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that you could devote your entire life to traveling the world to find that soul-mate of cities or that country you were destined to spend happily ever after with and maybe you’ll luck out and find it. Author David Sedaris (an American in Paris) did. As did Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Madonna, Johnny Depp, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pamela Anderson.
You could save yourself the trouble and devote your energy to learning to love the country you’re in. Embrace your outsider status. And let that freak flag fly.
For more information on hedonic refugees, read an interview with Eric Weiner on World Hum.