I’m in Ireland for a few more days, but my program officially ended today. One of the classes I took this summer was scriptwriting. One of my assignments was to write a monologue, so I opted to write about my experience of being on this trip. My monologue “Have You Ever?” was performed at our last night of plays and film screenings. Several people thought I wrote the piece about their experiences (one of the program participants thought I scrolled through her Facebook posts for material!), so I’m happy that my work resonated with my peers. I hope you enjoy it too.
Have you ever thought about what it means to be from a place? Is it even important to you? For the last three weeks I’ve been in Ireland, a place I’ve never been before. There are enough similarities to home to make me feel comfortable, yet there are enough differences to make me feel out of my element.
Whenever an Irish person asks me where I’m from, I have to replace my default response of “New Orleans” with “The United States,” “The U.S.,” or “America.” It feels clunky on my tongue, so I blurt out “New Orleans” afterwards, which is more for my benefit than theirs.
It’s my first time out of the country, save for a trip to Mexico, and I hardly think a bargain cruise even counts as international travel. I think about what would happen if I lost my passport. My U.S. citizen status is tied up in that one document. If a Leprechaun decides to pocket it, how would if prove who I am? And what if my wallet is stolen, with my Louisiana driver’s license, my bank cards, student I.D., then what? Will I be stuck in Ireland, unable to go home? Will I get fed to the witch of Blarney? Will she make black pudding out of me?
I define myself as part of the “born and raised” set from New Orleans. We’re a proud bunch, sometimes unfairly so, as if the involuntary act of being born in the 504 area code makes us superior to others that weren’t. So introducing myself as anything besides a New Orleanian is weird. I’m proud of where I’m from, but maybe that pride is unwarranted.
Or is it?
In Ireland, I’d like to think I blend in with the locals. I observe what they’re wearing, their posture, how they interact with each other in the bar, at the grocery store. I guess I’m trying to assimilate, but I always manage to screw it up. I open my mouth and America falls out. Or, I make eye contact and they see stars and stripes in my eyes. Or maybe I’m just paranoid. Maybe nobody cares where I’m from. Maybe I care too much.
I notice it’s about to rain one afternoon, just when I’m about to walk into city center. I turn around and catch the resident assistant. She holds the elevator so I can get on. “Looks like I’ll need my rain jacket,” I say. “Yes, it seems like it’s about to break cloud,” she responds. Break cloud? How lovely! I say to myself. In America, I might be inclined to spew out something along the lines of “Wow, it’s about to dump out there.” How vulgar of me. How American of me.
Can a person embody where they’re from?
Do I smell like swamp water? Is my skin like an armadillo’s shell? Or is it soft, like a dragonfly landing on a banana tree leaf? Maybe I just smell like Bourbon Street— soured beer with zero trace of dignity.
The problem is I used to think I had a decent grasp on who I am, and how others might perceive me. But now I’m not so sure if I can put my thumb on that in this space.
And the locals are so damn friendly. They’re not going to insult me, they’re not going to tell me I’m a big, dumb American. And maybe they’re not thinking that, but I’m thinking that they’re thinking that.
So I’m at this old man bar, the type of place where no one is under the age of 60 and it’s all dark wood, horse races on the tele, and it’s quiet enough for the patrons to read their newspapers with a pint. I’m in love. I sit with a local beer, I write, and I observe. Then a gaggle of women come barreling in, disrupting my peace with accents not unlike mine. “Please stop being so damn American,” I think to myself as they snap photos of each other and ask where the bathroom is. “Where are you from?” asks the bartender. He’s rakishly cute and the ladies coo at his accent as if they’re buttering a piece of toast with it. “We’re from Canada!” they exclaim, yelling loud enough for me to hear them from across the empty bar. Hold up. What? They’re from Canada? I could have sworn they were American.
You know what, forget it. Maybe I should just stop. Maybe I should just try to stop trying to pinpoint when I think the locals are judging me because of where I’m from. Maybe I should stop judging others because of where they’re from. Maybe I should just grab another pint.
photo: Ring of Kerry