What Rip Van Winkle taught me about repatriation

15 Feb 2013 6:09 PM | Judy Rickatson
Rip Van Winkle was an amiable, somewhat lazy man. His neighbors – especially the children – loved him. He loved to wander through the woods with his dog and his rifle. A favorite expression of his was, “Today is nice”.

He disliked and avoided gainful labor, for which his wife nagged him incessantly, and not without reason, for his neglect left the family finances, the farm and their lives in disarray.

One day Rip took a walk in the woods, spent some time drinking with a group of men he did not know, and fell into a deep sleep that lasted twenty years.

When he woke up, he found that his beard was a foot long, his gun was rusted away and his dog was missing. Back at the village, he recognizes no one, learns that his wife has died and other friends have either died or moved away.

Rip’s world is really rocked when he proclaims himself as a loyal subject of King George III, which outrages his neighbors. The American Revolutionary War had taken place while he had been asleep, changing the cultural landscape forever.
Rip settles rather quickly back into his normal, amiable and idle daily life, spending his last years in front of Mr. Doolittle’s Hotel,  learning about what he had missed during his sleep, and telling stories about his experience. Rumor has it that he preferred to spend his time with the younger generation.

I thought of this story while watching the American National League Football playoffs last weekend. When I left the United States many years ago, I knew the names of the star players, which teams were good and why, which teams would continue their dismal losing streak and why.

Today, after my ‘sleep’ of about three decades, much (if not everything) about tv presentations of American Football has changed:

* many teams have different names
 * stadiums have exchanged their romantic names for names of financial institutions – I have no idea where Fed-Ex Field is, or Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Candlestick Park (San Francisco) and Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wisconsin) have withstood the temptation and trend to change names (so far).
* the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends are unknown to me, as are the coaches.
* the players I used to know are now sitting behind the commentator’s desk – grayer, (much) heavier, not funny at all, despite their attempts.
* tv images show yellow and blue lines on the field, as well as downs and yards to go.
* not to mention female reporters in the locker room

Rip Van Winkle is back, and the village has changed – and not just football either! Imagine a crowd listening to presidential candidates debate jumping to its feet in a standing ovation!

Short-story analysis is always a dicey proposition. And yet:

The final irony of Washington Irving’s story could be that, in Rip Van Winkle’s village, twenty years and a revolution later, not much had really changed after all!

And isn’t that the experience of the repatriate?
Everything has changed.
Nothing has changed.

What was the name of that quarterback again?

Contributed by Norman Viss, an expatriate coach who has many years of broad international experience working with people from a wide variety of cultures, including a 10 year span of living in Nigeria, West Africa, and 22 years in the Netherlands. Currently he lives in the Philadelphia, USA and blogs at the Everyday Expat Support Center


  • 18 Feb 2013 9:18 AM | Joan
    Never thought I would relate to Rip Van Winkle so well! Thanks for the story!
  • 18 Feb 2013 4:19 PM | Bob Cztwin
    Sport as metaphor for life, all are agreed;
    As child's play falls prey to personal and corporate greed.
    Candlestick is in its last good turn, as next year torn down to earn
    More gold for 49ers owners & crowners, like Giants already found greener corners,
    And Green Bay Green and Gold, the last to withhold, since shares the fans themselves hold.
    But who among these business giants maintains a brand whose name defiant
    Lasts as long as seasons gone, like MCI, ProPlayer, for just a Minute Maid, nee Enron?
    The only stalwart now I see, went away then came back again....as AT&T.
    So don't lose heart if players' names change, or colors fade, or teams move down range.
    The Play's the Thing, wherein to catch your Conscience, if you be King.
    Enjoy the sports you love, until the only venue you can watch them live is from Above!

    -- This poem composed especially for Norman V.
    • 03 Mar 2013 2:37 AM | Linda A Janssen
      I can just imagine the 'everything and nothing has changed' dichotomy. We tend to see it all from our own perspective, thinking how much we've changed being away (and we have), as if no one else is changing as well. That's why I'm in the camp of approaching repatriation as another cross-cultural move, because it is. Thanks Norm, looking forward to seeing you at FIGT conference later this month.

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