“You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés.”
I first came across this quote a few years ago and it made an impression. It’s by Hemingway. I read a lot of Hemingway in high school and while most girls in my literature class disliked him, it was actually the opposite for me. I remember reading his short story “Hills Like White Elephants” and thinking “I wish I could write something like that one day”. The minimalism, the symbolism, the underlying meaning, in every word and phrase, I just thought it was simple but complex, and above all brilliantly written. After several attempts at crafting a similar story, I quickly realized I wasn’t a Hemingway. I also quickly realized that in order for any of my writing to be decent, even good, it would have to be authentic and true. As much as I admire another writer’s style I can’t copy it. And it’s for one very simple reason. I’m not them. I’m not like anyone. I’m me and I would have to find my own voice.
But I digress. That’s not really the point of why I’m writing this. The point is what Hemingway wrote in these short lines and how he expressed it. I like this quote and can relate to it on some level, especially now that I have moved overseas for an unknown period. In one sense it conjures up images of life without worry or concern, where living in the moment for the moment is the focus. The things that mattered at one time no longer seem relevant. You live according to another set of ideals, ideals that you admired for a long time but somehow where never able to truly live by. But then I ask myself, could there be something deeper in his words? (And, moreover, do I really consider myself an expatriate?) It is possible to leave a notion, an idea behind, to shed a part of your former self and change. And this is one of the ideas that I think Hemingway is trying to convey. However, you can allow your new situation to either ruin you or rebuild you. The point perhaps that Hemingway didn’t consider, or never even intended to suggest, is that it all depends on how you perceive, receive, and react to the situation. Just because you’re an expat (or in a new or difficult situation) doesn’t mean that you should let your circumstances define you or cause a ripple effect in every aspect of your life. Although I’m very partial to hanging around cafes in Europe, especially Italy!
I once heard a great quote that I now have written down on a post it as a reminder. It reads “circumstances do not matter, only state of being matters”. Simply put it means that your state of being – how you think, what you feel – is most important and that every person has the ability to reshape their situation based on this. On the surface Hemingway implies that the life of an expat is one that appeals to the senses and speaks to some romantic ideal. And in most cases, it does and it’s wonderful. But on a more profound level he describes a shift from the former to the present, from old to new. This change within, which is something I believe anyone who moves away from that which is comfortable and known is looking for, is something that all expats struggle with. I would know. But while I’m sorting through all the internal stuff that comes along with this experience, I am so enjoying my expat life. Hemingway certainly had the right idea!