For those who have lived abroad, the sense of belonging to one place is elusive.
Whenever I am living abroad, people always say the same thing, insisting that I am . Sometimes it's the words I use, or the way I talk. Sometimes it's my insistence on "things working," my annoyance that, after 5 p.m. on Sunday, the grocery stores are closed.
But back in America, a strange thing happens. People say I have a British accent; they insist I have a European quality. When my hair was blond, men would stop me in the streets and speak Russian to me. I am not Russian.
It's hard to pinpoint when I lost my "belongingness," my ability to be seen as a reflection of one particular culture or place. Perhaps it was during that first solo trip abroad, when, at 18, I traveled to Italy to learn Italian for my soon-to-be-abandoned opera career. Four months later, my parents came to pick me up. Standing at the tiny airport on the outskirts of Florence, I welcomed them, my American jeans traded for snakeskin cigarette capri pants, high-heeled sandals, and red lipstick.