Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Feeling like a country?

One of the questions I get when I am in Penang is whether I feel "more Malaysian" or "more American". My first reaction was that this was a nonsensical question. How can one "feel" a country? My defensive reaction is the following:

If by "feeling American" does it mean that I am more comfortable driving around in America? Grocery shopping? Finding things that I want or need or knowing where to look?

By this definition then, yes of course, I "feel American". Come to think of it, I'd feel uncomfortable in a city that I've never been for instance, Atlanta. So this definition, which is the only definition that I would accept, means that I "feel Washingtonian" as well. Put me in St Louis and I'd feel lost right away.

But this question has a deeper connotation as well. After travelling for a long time, travellers may "feel good to be home" be it America or some other place. Likewise, defectors from the former Soviet Union may profess to feel "freedom" when arriving in America.

Does or can one feel different when one enters American airspace (or American shores)? "We're now in America, folks," said the pilot over the intercom. "Can you feel it? Feel it now? Feel it, feel it?"

So perhaps it's not such a crazy question. On the political front, can a conquered country feel the spirit of its conquerors? Do the borders of a country define how one feels about the country and if so what does the break up of the former Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia mean? Did the citizens of the original nations not feel what it was like to be defined by the borders of the nation? Ultimately, what does it mean to feel American or Malaysia or British or Irish?

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