Accidental Nationality

“Everything you are used to, once done long enough, starts to seem natural, even though it might not be.”
― Julien Smith,
The Flinch


Marina’s daughter gave her a chicken killing dog. She tied it to the Mango tree in the front yard because it is a good guard dog. The other day, it chewed through the frayed rope, flew over the barbed wire fence separating our properties, and attacked one of our chickens. She apologized in the only way she could; she made us a pot of chicken soup. Yesterday, her daughter bought a muzzle for the dog. They showed us how the muzzle worked by untying the dog from the Mango tree. It flew over the barbed wire fence, and pounced on one of our chickens, flattening it like a tortilla. This time Marina asked to borrow our machete. I was afraid she was going to kill the dog, so I told her to make us another pot of chicken soup. Ahh…life in Nicaragua. It is beginning to seem natural.

I am an immigrant from the United States, now living in Nicaragua. My nationality was accidental. I happened to be born on one side of an imaginary line, instead of another. If I would have been born in another country, I would feel just as connected with my heritage, social norms, and culture as I do now.

Yet, living abroad casts a new light on my accidental nationality. People I once thought of as foreigners are now my friends and neighbors. I used to be an expert on unwritten rules about how to behave, but now I’m a novice in a world of social norms that are unpredictable and alien. Once an insider, I am now an outsider or, as we used to say, “A person from off.”

IMG_0473I’ve developed a fondness for my host country, the culture, and especially the people. I don’t think I will ever fully merge into its social lanes, but I am beginning to understand Nicaragua’s slow-paced subtleties, its colorful spirit, along with all of its quirks and contradictions. The “land of the not quite right” is beginning to feel like home. Most things seem perfectly natural to me, even though they might not be.

IMG_1809While the process of assimilation takes place, my observations of my home country become more acute. I look at the United States with a new perspective of its flaws and virtues. I realize that there are very few things that are actually unique to my culture. I find more similarities than differences among the races of people. I’m more lenient in criticizing those who differ politically, spiritually, intellectually, and culturally. I’m harsher in my criticism of environmental issues.

Long ago, I discarded the statements, “I’m living in paradise.” and “The United States is the best country in the world.” There is no such place as paradise, and no country that is the best in the world. I am grateful for the opportunities the United States has given me and I have come to love my host country as well.

IMG_7647Am I torn between two worlds? Definitely not! My accidental nationality does not define who I am. I love my heritage and culture, yet I have come to embrace Nicaragua. Or maybe it’s the other way around…Nicaragua has embraced me.

I’ve gained a better appreciation for my home country. I will always be a United Statesian. But, I’ve begun to break through the barriers that separate our humanism. Life seems natural in the land of the not quite right, even though it may not be. Ahh…life in Nicaragua. Time to make another pot of chicken soup.

Are you torn between two worlds?

Compare your country of birth to another country. 


19 thoughts on “Accidental Nationality

  1. We certainly don’t get to choose our nationality or our parents. Thought provoking post, Debbie and it shines with tolerance, humor, and understanding of your chosen country. One chicken I can understand, but two??? What great stories you have. Now, go take a dip in the plunge pool.:)

    • Lynne, thanks for your thoughts. There was so much more I wanted to say, especially about patriotism, but that will have to be another post. Haha! Two chickens. I wish I would have had my camera. I couldn’t believe her dog pounced on the second one.

  2. There was a saying that we heard when we moved to Texas years ago, “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could…” Seems like you could substitute Nicaragua quite easily and use that as your anthem. It’s quite easy to see how much you love your adopted country and the “Land of the not quite right!” Anita

  3. Wow! Great blog and the posts! I feel fortunate to have been born in the United States and to have had the opportunities that I had because of it. But now at age 60 I get to travel and see the world which I have always wanted to do. I admire all the young people I meet that are out seeing this world. It is a place not to miss and makes you appreciate all the people and cultures on this planet. Since I majored in geography I was aware of being ethnocentric and have tried to always be aware of others’ cultures and have an appreciation for how we are different and unique. And yet all care for their families and loved ones and have good heart, so humanity is much alike. What a great big wonderful world!

  4. Interesting piece Debbie. I spent a lot of time in Paris during my college years and for a long time I believed in France’s cultural superiority but now 20 years later I see its many flaws especially with racism. Yes there are pros and cons of all nations and being aware of what they are make life easier to understand.

      • Yes so true. I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to afford to travel. I know people get down on Americans for not traveling outside the US much but it really is very expensive. My ticket to Africa this summer is over $2,000! I nearly fell off the chair. And then my friends ask why I don’t bring my kids?! Well, if I won the lottery I would. Someday we do hope to bring them somewhere outside the US but since it will cost a fortunate I want to wait until they are a little bit older so they can fully comprehend it. I’m not thinking Europe. I’m thinking a third world country and I want them to understand what they see. Better start saving!

  5. What an adventure ,,,where few people venture!
    Good for you,,love to take a new path ,,,,opens your mind , heart and soul, and what you do is ….GROW!!!
    Be grateful,its all about being fearless,,YOU GO!!!!!!!
    Love your writing,and i look forward to exploring your new homeland!
    Light ,

  6. I was born in Italy in 1941 to a Danish mother and Italian Father. Father disappeared in 1944, I went to Denmark to live with my Danish Grandparents while my mother joined the Allied forces as an Interpreter, she spoke 7 languages. We immigrated to the United States in 1947. Became U.S. citizens in 1954. I joined the Navy in 1959, received a Sec Nav appointment to Annapolis in 1962, graduated in 1966, and spent 4 years off and on, off the coast of Vietnam. Spent the next 30 years in Silicon Valley, now live in Pedasi, Panama. What am I, a half breed expat? ;>}}

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