Trapped in-between cultures: Who am I?

First let me tell you a little about my history:  I was born in a South American country and grew up in a part American/part Latin culture.  My first language was Spanish but I also speak English, Italian, and conversational French and Portuguese.  I by no means look Spanish with pale white skin and green eyes but certainly don’t sound American when the R’s roll of my tongue when speaking Spanish (you really should see my salsa moves).  Do you see the identity crisis?

So far every time I have traveled or lived overseas I have been able to integrate into the culture rather easily.  When I first moved to this country I failed my first few years of school because I didn’t speak English.  Fast forward a few years and I was watching football and shoving big macs in my mouth in no time.  Who can really resist right?  I still love a good arepa when I can find one (typical Spanish dish) and am obsessed with soccer and Spanish women, ahem… Spanish dancing.

When living in Sicily I was able to pick up Italian extremely quickly, staying away from the mafia, not so much.  Both Italian and Spanish are Latin languages and its essentially using the same words with a different accent.  French and Portuguese are a bit different since the accents are very different and the words are a bit different as well.

Sometimes when I travel I get caught in-between cultures.  When I first came back from Italy I would start using Italian words in my Spanish vocabulary and of course, the incessant hand motions that go with it (the Italian).  I remember when my sister came back from a study abroad summer she came back speaking Spanish with a lisp (how proper castellan Spanish is spoken).  I’m currently living in Toronto trying to see all the things to do in Canada and I have caught myself saying EH at the end of every sentence.  At first I would just joke around about it but now it’s becoming a habit.  A friend of mine actually spoke in a part Jamaican, part Canadian, part Venezuelan accent when we met after 7 years, truly a hysterical moment in time I will never forget.

We all have roots firmly placed in cities around the world.  Whether it’s a place you grew up or the home where you had your first love.  Since I have been travelling so long I now have bits and pieces from every culture engrained in my personality.  Jokes that I learned in Puerto Rico don’t work in Chile or Buenos Aires.  How do I translate that hysterical joke I heard in Italy when there is no direct translation?  Since I travel so much when I finally start to get the hang of the local culture it’s time to pick up and live in another country.

It’s similar to rebooting a computer once it freezes.  While you still have to bring up the same programs you had up before to finish your work, you have to start all over again.  There is system restore which brings some of your work back to life but you really have to focus to get back on the path you were on to get everything done.  Not quite culture shock… trapped in-between cultures.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing your identity crisis! Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one! I was born in Burma to a Chinese mother and a Burmese father but moved to live in America when I was one. I grew up pretty American, my cousin and I being the only non-whites in school (we suffered endless taunts for being different, kids are so mean), while my mother kept insisting that I was Chinese whenever cultural clashes occurred in the house. Now that I'm traveling all over Asia, every one keeps thinking I'm from that country and giving me dirty looks for walking around with my white boyfriend and not speaking “my” language to them. It makes things tough but you do learn more about yourself as the days go by, and that is completely worth a little identity crisis now and then!

  2. Great post. I understand this dilemma extremely well. It really takes a lot of mental effort to make the switch from one culture to the next especially if you have been living in a different country for awhile. I'm just making the switch back to Australia from America and you'd think that really wouldn't be a big one but it is. Just the other day I ordered a sandwich on wheat and had the waitress stare at me like I just spoke Latin. It took awhile for me to remember that wheat in Australia is actually called brown bread or grain. And then there is driving on the other side of the road. There is nothing like sitting in your car for 5 minutes trying to remember which country drives on which side of the road or suddenly forgetting which side you should be on as you are actually driving!!

  3. I hear you there, I oh sooo hear you!
    I am Armenian origin, born in Lebanon, grew up in the Arabian Gulf and France and have a French Nationality. I'm living in Thailand now.. I speak 5 languages fluently and am a mix of Armenian-French-Arabic culture.

    Who or what am I? I actually don't care! I am multicultural and proud of it. I am not patriotic and do not have a country I blindly follow. I travel and am a citizen of the world, a nomad able to adapt in every culture easily.
    That's what makes us a rich person!

    Cheers viajero!

  4. hahahah!! how about I was in Ottawa just a few weeks ago and the guy says… would you like to III-talian bread? (normally pronounced more with an E instead of an I) Reminded me of a red neck from Wisconsin in Toronto of all places…

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