Return of the expat


Wellesley Magazine‘s spring issue carries an essay worthy of your attention. “Not All Here” is foreign correspondent Paula Butturini’s graceful pondering of the experience of returning to the United States after 32 years abroad in London, Madrid, London, Rome, Warsaw, Berlin, Rome, and Paris.

“Lucky you,” people often respond when they ask where we’ve lived. I’m always the first to agree. But I never know how to answer when they follow up with the inevitable, “What’s it like to be home?”

My gut response—a puzzled-sounding “Home?”—tends not to go down well. But the fact is I haven’t felt at home since we moved back, and didn’t expect I would.

Butturini returns to a country much changed.

Perhaps it’s the sea changes in American life that explain my unease. Who sent our factory jobs to the developing world while I was gone, our secretarial and administrative jobs to customers’ home computers? When did poisonous party politics replace public discourse? Who canonized a new class of oligarchs and decreed that stratospheric wealth was a heavenly nod from the Creator? When did public civility and civic obligation become quaint? How can white police shootings of young black men be back in the news, half a century after Selma—the march, not the movie?

I like this paragraph, too, and am in the author’s debt for introducing me to a German term I immediately embraced:

My husband suggests that we may be missing what the Germans call Idiotenfreiheit, or the freedom enjoyed by idiots, the insane, a freedom that can apply to foreigners as well. Foreigners living outside their home country often enjoy a large measure of psychological freedom; they may be treated much the same way a country treats its own citizens who are not quite “all there.”

Idiotenfreiheit indeed.

I’m all for more essays in university magazines. We’re the perfect place for them. And Wellesley did something else I like here, which was use four pages for a two-page essay. The first two pages are devoted to a graphic opener — illustration on first page, head and deck on the second, the essay text on pages three and four. Would like to see more of that.


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