Confusion Corner: Venturing beyond the picket fence

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September 15, 2011

9:54 PM

Bonjour from France! As I write this, I sit in my apartment in the 18th arrondissement, or district, of Paris.
“The city of lights” really is everything that everyone idealizes it to be. There are cafes on every street corner. There are more fashion boutiques than you can jingle a Euro at. There is more bread, cheese and wine than I’ve ever seen or considered consuming in my life.

The flight here was quite literally a trip. The sum technological advancements of the last hundred years conspired, or if I were egotistical enough, culminated in my transportation some 4,000 miles east, across the ocean whose very vastness and insurmountability made epic heroes of famous figure such as Columbus and the pilgrims. I did it in seven hours and enjoyed a snack in the middle of the flight.

As I try, goofy and big-haired, to somehow seem more in place here than out of it, I’m struck by a question.

What does it mean to be from somewhere? Many of us list it first when describing ourselves to a stranger.
“My name’s Jason, I’m from Virginia, I’m 21 years old.” It’s the second thing we share, right after our name. I also think we imagine that it colors who we are. It may be classic egocentrism, but as I stand on the Metro,
I’m sure everyone can tell I’m an American. Regardless of when I speak or how I dress, I must emit some American pheromone that immutably betrays me.

But what does it really mean to be from somewhere? Ethnographically, it means I was born in the United States — that I entered the world within the set of coordinates that men have agreed to refer to as America. It means that it took me 21 years to wander outside my corral. I was slower than some of the other cattle.

But does it identify me at all? Compulsion screams no. It seems no more valid to identify myself by the country in which I live than by the month I was born or the time that it is. “Hi, I’m Jason. I was born in August at 4 p.m.” Yet we insist upon its significance, and I understand its practicality. But I believe this practicality stems from folly. We see ourselves as citizens of our countries as though when we decide to venture outside, we are guests in other countries. But these are just constructs, and they are no more truth than mistake. We are citizens of the world — citoyens du monde. If we insist upon difference, let us draw the fence at Earthlings, for surely that makes us more similar than anything else. Let us visit Paris, Tokyo, Rome, all with a sense of ownership. With a pride that unites us all rather than asks us to tread lightly. Because after all, Where are you from?

__Jason Rogers is a Coin de Confusion Columnist and enjoys his French baguettes while pondering the world in a cafe. He might find his identity sooner or later…__

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