Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fitting in

I think there are 3 types of "not fitting in". And not to mention that neither is "not belonging", which is a completely different feeling and situation that can happen even once you do fit in.
The first not fitting in and the most common in is when you just arrived at a place, you don't feel like you fit it and it is obvious to everyone around you that you don't have a clue about the place. This happens with me in India for example. I barely know how to get things done or how things work and it is apparent to everyone else that the gori is not from there. This includes all the tourist attraction doormen (that always charge me full price whether I'm wearing a full salwar kameez or not), fruit vendors and rickshaw drivers (who always charge much more than they would charge my in laws or A.).

The second not fitting is is more nuanced. You've been there for a while, you know your way around but people insist on treating you like a foreigner. This for example happens to A. a lot in Europe or even in the US where being brown is not the norm and people assume you don't know how things work. This is also how I think it would be if I lived in India for a while: I would know the basics but people would still act as if I didn't.

And finally there is the third not fitting in type which can be quite amusing or exasperating in same measures. This happens when you just arrived at a place, don't know anything but seem to fit right in (at least others assume so). This first happened when I moved to the US and although I spoke English I could just not understand the strong Southern accept people had. This annoyed people considerably, since they thought I was making fun of them. Another example is A. in Brazil where by looks he fits right in... he even had a woman ask him at a dollar store if he worked there! He was pissed off but I told him to take it as a compliment. And finally, this is what is happening to me here in Norway. People seem to single me out on the street, come straight to me and start speaking Norwegian (asking for what I think are directions). When I answer that I don't speak Norwegian there is usually a "oh" and then they switch to English or just walk off.
The hope for most of these not fitting in situations is that they will change over time and at some point, when you have almost given up hope, you find yourself fitting in!
Although not fitting in is not necessarily bad... Like I was shocked when I found myself suddenly fitting into the US car culture after biking around for 4 years!


  1. New York is an exception to the second kind of not fitting in. You will find people of all color, shape, size and sub-species. You could be wearing a green hat and a pink tie and riding a unicycle wearing yellow polka-dot boxer shorts and still nobody would give you a second look. The concept of "foreignness" of anything just does not exist; people are either too jaded or too above all that. Not sure if you've been there but it is so NOT the south. This hippo could never live down there. I'd be too fast for them.

  2. Hello DH,
    I completely agree. I meant to write that the 2nd type (and 3rd) depend a lot on location and New York (I think like London) make it easier to blend in.

    A. and I joke that I have a "fit in" complexion for developed countries while he fits into any developing one... which is good because one of us always can get by as the "local" showing the "tourist" around: :P

  3. I'm a case of "Second not fitting in" I've been living in India for 7 years, but people still assume I know nothing simply because I'm a gori...that is really irritating sometimes, especially when they try to rip you off giving excuses such as "hidden taxes" or something equally stupid.