How does it feel to be a foreigner?
It’s like being a bit different. Not quite fitting in. A bit like not understanding the local joke. You understand the meaning of the words, but you don’t get the funny part because you have not grown up with local myths and legends. You have not been there to attend major events, so you miss out on what everybody knows, hence no one has to talk about.
So, you learn about values, habits, culture, interaction rules and language of other people, those myths and legends. You adopt them so you can be accepted, you can fit and be valuable part of the team (in work/ education/society). You might feel anxiety not to make any public mistake or social faux pas. You are teaching others that despite you belonging to the certain nation, you are individual, and you have your own value, separated from general preconceptions. You might spark someone’s interest about your culture and ways but it’s mostly about your skills of assimilation.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s just that after considerable time during which you have been learning the local myths and legends, you should be able to get the humorous point of that local joke. So, after years of learning, observing, adapting and learning, why am I still not laughing?
It is not the geography, local people or language which gives me the constant feeling of being foreigner. I can speak quite well. I’m writing this with no editing by English native, only with help of unpaid version of Grammarly. Actually after 13 years in this country, I struggle with expressing myself in my mother tongue more than in English. I live with English. I dream in English. I like certain customs, celebrations and habits more, than those I grew up with. Some values of this country are far more progressive and far more relatable than those in my own homeland. In fact, when I go back to my country to visit family and old friends, I still feel like foreigner, if not more.
As I stated, my issue is not the language or geography. It is the communication itself. It doesn’t feel natural to me. I’d be fine with observing the world if that could feed me. Honest. Just writing this is inherently unpleasant and it’s taking days. I know what I want to communicate but the written/ spoken language is too linear for my non-linear thought process and how I see things. The sentences must have some sort of order and rules to make sense for others. In written language I can use brackets to draw connection to other topic or to other meaning but , that’s still not enough. When I start talking about something, I can see the whole web of connections to other topics and I’m trying to maintain these rules of language. But soon the information in my head starts cluttering and the end result could be stammering, unfinished sentences, or shutdown.
But the biggest problem is the non-verbal communication. And since about 70% of it is social interaction and communication, no wonder I feel like foreigner, not getting the “local jokes” and struggling with blending in.
What’s my problem with non-verbal communication?
When I look into your eyes, I don’t read your emotions there. I don’t see into your soul through them. I have no idea what the hidden meaning of that particular shape of your eye is. I can see the shape, but what it means in context of You and in context of what is being said? I can see the size of your pupil....but is it big because of lack of light or is it fear? When I look into your eyes, I read the color, hue, value of the tiny fibers of your iris. I can get lost in following them and watching how they blend. I have unexplained but fully bottled up urge to touch it and play with it. I see the shape and play of light, the skewed reflection of me and the world in your eye….so it’s easier for me not to look into the eyes if you want me to retain attention. But your understanding of that action might be different.
After I give you question, I can see you are looking up to the right. So now: it is your left my right- hang on which one is my right (my right fingers might move, twitch) …is it my right or your right? Hang on! Slow down! I know the theory…I just struggle to apply this knowledge in the hurry of conversation to figure out whether your non-verbal language tells me that you are lying, or you are trying retrieve the information from memory.
At the same time, I’m trying to figure you out, looking for any hidden agendas + trying to process what is being said, I’m very much aware of the temperature of environment. I hate cold. Stops my thinking. Makes me miserable. Makes me cry (deep inside). And big proportion of the time I’m cold. You see, I sweat a lot – it’s the cold sweat due to discomfort in social interaction or expressing my thoughts. I’m even sweating as I’m writing this. The sweat soaks up the clothing and then, the clothing is sticky and freezing cold. I’m very sensitive to the touch so soaked, wet clothing touching me all over makes me even more uncomfortable. It is self-feeding loop I can stop only by removing myself from situation. So even in summer you might see me wearing more layers than it is necessary- to hide the sweating if I can’t stop it and stay warmish if bottom layer gets soaked.
And when it comes to my body language...My body is in constant super tension and it often feels like it doesn’t belong to me completely. I feel more in control if I have some object in my hand and if I‘m doing some repetitive movements with it. It’s sooo soothing and makes me happy…therefore, most of the time you might find me playing with something. Or having my hands in pockets so you can’t see what I’m doing with my hands. Or if I can’t play with hands, I use feet, I use music to tap into. My blushing might be sign of embarrassment, shame, excitement or just simple surprise. I could blush when I’m untruthful (which is mostly hiding something), but I could blush when I’m telling the truth as well and the blushing is just sign of some emotional processes I might not even realize fully at the time. And I can feel it every single time when I’m blushing, which makes me blush even more. Again, your understanding might be that I’m shy and timid, but I’m no chicken. Years ago when I was doing tandem skydive, the instructor told me that I was the quietest client he ever had. I was surprised as I thought that I was screaming with all the emotions I was experiencing (positive ones as I always wanted to do it), but after watching the video, it turned out I never said a word or let out any sound. My body language talks a lot about shyness and reservation, but I was only 19 when I left the safety of the parental nest and moved to another country. On my own. Barely speaking local language. With bag on my back and borrowed £200 in my wallet. How many people have a balls to do that? And I’m still here after 13 years. Different but still carrying on.
And guess what. I’m not alone in my experience:
Wrong planet syndrome
Life on the Autism spectrum
Poems from another world
Beware of the alien life form
The Aliens Have Landed!
When Autism Feels Like Being on the Wrong Planet
Seeker- created as reaction of the feeling being like alien, not belonging, seeking your own type of humanity.