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A Stranger in Every Land

I pulled weeds in a woman’s garden in Bangor, ME for the better part of a week. I tried hard to work like the migrant workers who labored quickly and efficiently on the farms of my childhood. At the end of the job, I went to be paid for my efforts. I ask if my [...]

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I pulled weeds in a woman’s garden in Bangor, ME for the better part of a week. I tried hard to work like the migrant workers who labored quickly and efficiently on the farms of my childhood.

At the end of the job, I went to be paid for my efforts.

I ask if my check could be made out to my wife, Chaya, as I do not have a bank in Maine where I could easily cash the check.

At this request, my employer acted with supreme understanding.

The amount that I was to be be paid was $405.

I was handed a $400 check and a five dollar bill.

“I made the check out for an even $400 so that you could say that it was a gift,” my employer stated with an all-knowing sort of smile.

“Alright . . . thank you,” I replied without recognizing the significance of her statement.

I could not figure out why she thought that I would want to disguise my pay as a gift, but figured that this was just the way rich people from Maine paid their gardeners.

“Do you know what my daughter does?” my employer then asked me rhetorically. “My daughter is an immigration lawyer.”

She made her eyes real big with significance as she said the word “immigration,” as if she was implying the obvious.

I had no idea what this obvious was.

“My daughter is an immigration lawyer, so I know a little about immigration law,” she reiterated with a nod towards the even numbered check. “I know what you are going through,” she then quickly added.

It took me a moment or so before the situation became clear: my employer, apparently, took it for granted that I am not a national of the the USA.

She took me for a foreign migrant worker.

I suppose I achieved my goal.
A Stranger in Every Land

Origin of stranger photo

I once questioned my friend Dave from The Longest Way Home, who has been traveling around the world for the past four years, about his country of origin.

He answered:

“No secret on where I’m from, these days a little of everywhere.”

Well, if Dave is from a little of everywhere, then I proclaim that I am from a little of nowhere.

I have been prone to noticing over the years that people really seem unable to accurately gauged what country I come from. In the Middle East, the top guess was Spain; in China, people think that I am an Uighur; in Turkey, an unspecified sort of foreign Muslim.

I have become a stranger in every land, which is appropriate to how I feel.

I suppose this especially holds true in the USA. I have been usurping pointless small talk during these Maine days with the story that I am a half Russian/ half Mohawk Indian whose real name is Igor.

Making up stories is exponentially much more interesting than honestly boring small talk. . . and to tell the truth in the midst of a small talk inquisition would remove the social cloak that I delight far too much in hiding under.

I also have a speech impediment. But I am fortunate enough that my home grown, genetically absorbed, odd way of speaking is often mistaken to be a naturalized accent from some far off locale.

When I was little, my classmates would always ask me where I was from, my teachers guessed “Boston.” But I was always embarrassed to admit that I was no specimen of exoticism, but just an ordinary little farm runt that difficulty pronouncing his R’s.

The attention that my speech would receive perhaps pushed me away from the world of play and into the world of books: speech impediments are not recorded on paper. I tried not speaking to anyone through my days at school, and when I was called out of class to to go speech therapy, I would hear a subdued chorus of “retard, you don’t know how to speak?” arise from my classmates.

But rather than walking straight to my in-school speech therapy lessons, I would instead walk the hallways alone. When my speech therapist told me to write a list about why I did not like coming to speech therapy, I took it as an opportunity to get myself kicked out.

I wrote something to the effect of:

“I don’t like speech class because . . .”

  1. You are stupid.
  2. You are ugly.
  3. I hate you.
  4. on and on and on

I got kicked out of speech therapy, but the damage was already done: I was the kid who couldn’t talk. So I shut up for a while . . . until I found a few uncensored books by Emma Goldman and Paul Avrich in the public library. Then, my speech became the last thing my school was worried about.

This speech impediment set in the foundation stones of the social estrangement that I would build voluntarily throughout my latter public school days. I somehow managed to turn my verbal estrangement into rebellion, and I soon became well respected as a witty sort of trouble maker.

But my mother, being a good mother, forced me into years of private speech lessons. My therapist may as well have been my probation officer, as I felt as if I was being punished for breaking the laws of the letter “R.”

Though I did my time in full, and, after being shown a little trick by the therapist, I could pronounce my “R” like a regular western New Yorker, and was thus freed from the bounds of speech therapy.

Though my inveterate mumble and half hickish drawl I was allowed to keep.

How to make money to travel
Project – how to make and save travel funds
Garden work day one
Garden work day two – Glory of the Working Class

A Stranger in Every Land


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Filed under: Maine, North America, Travel Philosophy, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3716 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

2 comments… add one

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  • Byron J. Gaudette July 3, 2009, 1:18 am

    "Just curious if other long term travelers such as your self loose or gain an accent?"

    I find that my accent will kind of adapt, due to whoever I am hanging around with at the time. It's strange. This goes for within the US as well…if I'm hanging out with Canadians, my Michigan/Canadian accent will come out. When I'm in California, my bro accent will come out.

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  • Wade Vagabond Journey.com July 5, 2009, 11:23 pm

    Hello Byron,

    I think you hit on a good note of human evolution here. It is my impression that people have the tendency to mimic the types of accents they hear automatically and naturally . . . this is probably what enables us to learn language to begin with.

    I do the same thing. It is funny to catch yourself mimicing another accent.

    Thanks for adding this comment.


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