Growing up between worlds with a significant loyalty to airlines as opposed to countries was a privilege. I viewed the world less through the lens of nationalism and more through the lens of a citizen of the world. It also meant that at any given time or place in either country there was potential for a significant information gap.
From fashion trends to Hollywood stars, the information gap ebbed and flowed based on my proximity to people or news from the United States.
In high school the information gap manifest itself initially through fashion. When you haven’t been in a country for four years your clothes bear witness. Mini skirts, bell bottoms and halter tops spelled out “Fashionista” in the seventies, and I displayed a glaring fashion information gap. In college the gap was openly outed when playing Trivial Pursuit. This popular game, created in the 80’s required significant cultural knowledge of the United States. From baseball teams winning the well-loved World Series to television shows that had popular theme songs, the game could not be played well by someone with an information gap. What was the theme song to Gilligan’s Island? Who knew? Who was Mickey Mantle? I don’t know! Do I care? Interesting fact: Trivial Pursuit was created by two men from the country north of us, Canada. This fact just disappointed me more for I would have expected a Canadian to understand that creating a game where you get points for being able to answer questions about pop culture to be uniquely unfair.
But on to the topic of information gaps. In the family wedding I attended in June, an information gap came up around the names of the Great Lakes. As I tried to name them, I realized I couldn’t. I did not know the names of the Great Lakes, something that is learned by every child in America in Elementary school. Only of course, I didn’t go to elementary school in America. I could tell you about Lake Saiful Maluk in the Kaghan Valley in Pakistan but the Great Lakes in the United States? There was a glaring gap in information. (I had no idea that the acronym HOME was the way to remember – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie). As this came up in conversation with people at the wedding I turned to my sister-in-law’s brother. He too was raised in Pakistan. I asked him if he knew the names of the Great Lakes. To my delight, he looked blankly at me as if to say “What Great Lakes?” He didn’t know. Here was a comrade, someone who shared the problem of an information gap.
There are times where my husband has had to sit beside me and whisper explanations in my ear. “It was a TV show” or “She was an actress married to so and so…” or “That’s a baseball team”. He has been my personal interpreter to get me through what could have been embarrassing moments that involved information gaps.
There were other times where there was no interpreter, no one to explain the reference that I didn’t understand. I would smile and nod blankly, not willing to let anyone know that I was lost in translation. Sometimes I felt as though I had a neurological deficit – as if I should know some of these things and the fact that I didn’t made me feel like I had a loss of neuro function. And then I would recover and think: “How could I possibly have known that? I didn’t live in the United States when that happened…” I’ve become bolder through the years, much more willing to say “I don’t understand the reference”. This inevitably leads to a discussion of why I don’t understand the reference and there are those times when I don’t have energy to go there. I don’t want to explain why I have information gaps and the humor and grief those gaps have caused me.
So it brings me to the question: What are your information gaps? Where have they caused you humor and/or grief? Weigh in through the comment section – we need your story!
For more reading on Third Culture Kids from Communicating Across Boundaries see these posts.