"You'd be great in a hostel."
I wad told this today by someone I consider one of my closest friends. And six months ago I would have agreed with her wholeheartedly and without hesitation. But right now I'm not as sure.
It's not that I've changed drastically. If you'd asked some of my closest friends who and what I was six months ago I expect (or at least hope) you would have got some of the following answers:
Someone who is ridiculous; who cares little for the opinions of the general public; who is willing to wear her pyjamas in everyday life; who is casual; who will day drink with me; who will say yes.
I would like to think the same phrases still apply. It's just I think they apply in new ways.
A person's public identity is a strange and frail thing, because it relies so heavily on other peoples' perceptions. Last week I turned some phrases that in Australia would have warranted little more than a wry smile or a sarcastic return comment, but here made people look twice at me, so seemingly out of character they were. And the reactions of my friends made me think: who exactly am I here?
When I left home I left behind a series of complex and often interrelated friendships that had taken me the better part of 21 years to build. Of course it's unrealistic to expect such a network to be replicated or even challenged in a mere six months. Still, I would like to think at least some of the people who I've met here have made a significant impact on my life, and vice versa. But how can that be when every day I come home exhausted from trying to be someone I think people would rather I be?
I liked myself in Australia. It took a long time, but I did. And I like myself here. But I have much less conviction here, because I'm not sure what my London friends will think of me if I start saying and acting the way I did at home. Will they like me? Will they understand me? It sounds patronising and I hate, it but I miss having friends who speak English as a first language the same way they miss speaking Spanish or Finish or Swedish on a regular basis.
But really the language issue is just a front. What I'm really worried about is that they wont like me. I admit there are a lot of things about myself that may not be to everyone's taste, but for the most part these are the things that define me, that I'm happy about. And I love living in London with the people I've met. Honestly, I have no intention of moving home anytime soon (or anytime at all, if possible). Everyone I speak to back home marvels at how happy and healthy I seem.
The thing is, whatever I use as an excuse - my self image issues, my less-than-ideal self esteem, the language differences between me and my friends - in the end it all boils down to one thing: what if they don't like me? Because I am who I am now. People may not like me, but I'm a lot less likely to change because of somebody else's opinion. And that's the scariest thing I've ever had to face.