My husband and I took a road trip to the South of France recently. On the search for those famous lavender fields, we stopped in the tiny town of Nyons. It was clearly a place where a lot of tourists ended up on their quest to find the purple beauty. The town itself did not have a lot to offer and it was difficult to find a restaurant that had a table for two because of all the out-of-towners invading the small city. I tried to show of my best high school French when ordering and was able to get a smile from the waitress.
After we were done with our meal, the waitress asked me to come with her. In any other circumstances and if I had been able to communicate better, I would have asked why and what it is she wants from me. However, I didn’t really know what to say, so I followed her inside. She showed me a picture of a world map on the wall with lots of pins in it. She pointed at the map and handed me a pin: “You put the pin … where I am from?“ She nodded. I smiled. I loved this idea and it showed that although she came off as somewhat cold, she was interested in where all the patrons of her restaurant came from. I climbed onto a chair and put the pin in Vienna, Austria.
When I went back outside, I told my husband about it. “How come you didn’t put the pin in Los Angeles?“ His question stopped me in my tracks. Why didn’t I put the pin in Los Angeles?
I was born in Austria but left the country when I was 19 years old. I moved to Germany and lived there for three years before following my first husband to the U.S., where I ended up spending the next decade. I attained dual citizenship, which I am very proud of as this is fairly difficult to accomplish for an Austrian. When I moved back to Austria in 2011, I realized how American I had become and fell into that deep repatriation-hole that very few in this world can relate to. On top of that, everyone around me assured me that my experience of living abroad would give me infinite possibilities in the workplace. That did not happen at all. Quite to the contrary. I barely got any job offers at all. It felt as if I got punished for leaving the country and ‚thinking that I was special’ and the Austrian professional world made sure to put me in my place.
It is a very lonely feeling and I felt more American than ever. I missed the land of opportunities, where companies at least give you a chance to prove yourself.
So why did I not put the pin in Los Angeles, California, USA since this is the home I identify with more than Austria? Is it because I accepted defeat because I couldn’t hold on to my upbeat American spirit? Is it because I wasn’t able to achieve my professional goals? Or is it because I had now been back living in Austria for the past six years?
I don’t know.
When I lived in the U.S., I missed Austria. Now that I live in Austria, I miss the U.S. To me, this raises the question of whether I will ever feel home anywhere. While two passports open a lot of doors for me, they also seem to raise a lot of questions within myself – and even more so, in others. They don’t know what box to put me in and that confuses a lot of people. An American girl living in Austria asked me once whether I felt more Austrian or more American and I told her that I identify as a citizen of the world. She got angry because I was unwilling to choose a side. Why the need to put everyone in ‚country-box’? I learned in my psychology class in college that people have an easier time thinking in ‚categories’. So when they can’t put you in a category they get confused and rather avoid you than deal with you.
I can’t put myself in a category. I can’t avoid me. I have to deal with me. My brain is not helping either. English and German intermingle in my thinking process and often results into gibberish talk that earns me confused looks. I speak German with English vocabulary and I speak English with German grammar. I sometimes feel as if others must think I’m a complete idiot and it frustrates me. I am sure its more me than them who thinks that.
I feel in international limbo. So what do I ought to do? Any ideas? Where am I from? Where do I belong?
Author: Cornelia Miedler
I am a native Austrian and a naturalized American writer. I grew up on a farm in the Austrian Alps, moved to Germany when I was just 19 years old with only a bit of change in my pocket, and eventually ended up in California when I was 23. I repatriated to Austria after living in the U.S. for 10 years and I am still struggling to find the balance between being a restless wanderer and trying to make Vienna my permanent home.
In 2016, I published my memoir ‘LAlien-From the Austrian Alps to the Hollywood Hills’ about life in Los Angeles from a European’s perspective.