Being International

Today is International Women’s day. While I know (just in case someone feels they need to explain this to me) that it means that we celebrate women all over the world, it was the word ‘international’ that struck me most. International. Inter-national. World wide. Multinational. Belonging to many countries yet not really belonging anywhere. Always being the odd one out, the one who comes from somewhere else, the Swede (in my case) or (when I go back home) the woman who left Sweden to become Irish.

When I grew up, I was encouraged to learn languages, to travel and discover other countries and their cultures. My parents traveled extensively and had friends from all over the world who would come for visits from time to time. During those visits, the house would ring with foreign voices, lively conversations and often singing and strange music. My father spoke at least five languages fluently and read books in them all.

I went to a very international school, where I mixed with children of very different races and backgrounds. This was natural to me and now that I think back on my school days, I realise how rich it made me. It also taught me from an early age to look at the person, not the nationality or colour. During summer holidays, I was sent to France and England to improve my language skills. It was a very enriching experience which made me feel at home in many countries and a great help later on, when I married a diplomat and started a globe trotting life that was to take me all over the world. It made me strong and able to cope anywhere in any situation.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.  Or, in my case, a travelling woman gathers few friends. I don’t by this mean to say that I don’t have any friends. I do. Very close, dear friends. But they don’t live nearby. They live in America, Italy and Sweden. I have to make an effort to se them and they have to do the same to see me. While, in this new Internet age, we communicate by e-mail and on Facebook and I have many online friends that are very dear to me, real life friendships will never go out of fashion.

It is only since we left diplomatic life and settled in rural Ireland that it has struck me that I don’t really belong anywhere. Or maybe it’s old age creeping up? Or maybe, because people around here are so settled, having lived here for generations that I feel more foreign then ever? They don’t need to widen their circles, as they have their families and the people they grew up with all around them. Friendships that span twenty, thirty years and more are things I can’t compete with. Not that they are not very friendly. They are. Nice and helpful and generous. But there isn’t that complicity or that natural acceptance that you would have with someone who has been around since birth.

I go to Sweden often now, where I can see my friends and family, those who really know me, people I have a history with, who truly understand me and to whom I don’t have to explain anything. They just know what I mean instinctively because they have the same points of reference.

My international-ness has also been a stumbling block in my writing career. Publishers in Ireland hesitated about my books because they weren’t Irish enough. UK publishers thought they were ‘too Irish’ sometimes and at other times ‘not anchored in any country’. I never thought about that until it was pointed out to me. My books are set mainly in France and also in  Sweden and they often have that globe trotting aspect, where the protagonists travel from one place to the other. I think of myself as a ‘continental’ because I feel so at home in continental Europe. I can walk around Paris, Brussels or Rome without even thinking that I am in a foreign country.

When I mingle with other writers on forums and in writer’s groups on Facebook, I realise that I am truly the odd woman out there. I sometimes find that my fellow authors misunderstand me and put another meaning into what I really want to say, which has nothing to do with language but a different way of thinking. This is quite interesting but can be frustrating too.

I write in English but I probably have a non-English/American ‘voice’. This may or may not be a plus, adding a little extra spice to a story or a turn of phrase. But it could also put people off, which might be the reason for some negative reviews. People who have not had my experience and who have never traveled might be confused and puzzled by some of the stories or way of thinking.

What do I know? I’m just a Swede lost in space.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. ragsdaniels
    May 07, 2012 @ 22:30:20

    A very interesting and intriguing collection of stories you have here, Susanne. Not the usual boring blogs one has become familiar with recently. And yours is the best one I’ve read in a while. With your permission, and as a fellow author, I would like to add a blog on your well presented site…One to match the colour scheme, of course.
    Rags Daniels.


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