Is home really where the heart is?
If you type 'where is home' into a google search one of the first results with be a page of quotes telling us all about what the home is.
'Home is not where you live but where they understand you' - Christian Morgenstern
'It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home' - Author unknown.
If you are an expat where is home?
For many expats the answer is usually as simple as the brick and mortar house left behind when the shipping company came to pack up the possessions. This 'home' is also where many people intend to return to. So this probably is where their heart is, where they want to go back to and where their friends and family are.
For many serial expats - myself included the word home doesn't really mean anything more than the current rented flat that houses my expanding shoe and handbag collection. I guess its true to say that the luxury of having a home is another of those things that get sacrificed when we take on the expat life. Sadly, along with friends and relatives you can drop in on at a moments notice.
For me, personally the concept of living in a home is a distant memory. Manchester was where I was born but I left my 'family home' at 18 and at 21 years old I moved to London. London always felt like ‘home’ but I will probably never be a permanent resident again. When I say London, I really mean the city. Its the city that feels like home - not a single address because I actually lived in 9 different 'homes' during my time there.
Switzerland is my current and official domicile but I don’t really feel like I belong here. I guess its still early days as we have only been here for 2 years and I'm still struggling with the language. Also we are still renting a flat and are very limited with what we can do. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t really feel like ‘home’.
I do think its important to try to 'feel at home' wherever it is you are currently staying. What you need to do to achieve this will vary from person to person and will also depend on your own circumstances.
There are a few things that I have done on various moves that have helped us to feel more 'at home'. For me buying a new duvet and bed sheets has certainly helped especially for lengthy stays in serviced apartments. Also I love fresh flowers and a small vase can usually be fashioned from a drinking glass.
When we moved to the USA we knew that our electrics wouldn't work as the voltage was different so I bought a Nespresso machine and a blender for the kitchen. On the grand scale of things the financial outlay was quite small compared to the benefits and comfort that comes from fresh coffee and breakfast smoothies.
What I would suggest to everyone preparing for a move is to check out if your employer will cover the cost of a few boxes sent air shipment. Maybe sneak a few things in with the office boxes. If not investigate the cost of sending a few small boxes via the local postal system. A few framed photos and a your favourite coffee cup may not seem so important while you are packing up the house but they will be worth their weight in gold when you get to the other end.
Moving house is also a great time to clear out old linens and crockery. When you arrive at your destination and replace these things they are nice way to give a personal touch to your new residence, even if it doesn't feel like 'home'
Today I was talking to a woman in my Pilates class who said she was Irish American and that her Irish blood sometimes gets her into trouble. Her Grandparents were Irish, Her parents born in NY and she has never been to Ireland. In my eyes she is American, and no more Irish than I am (my grandparents were also Irish).
This isn't the first time I have heard this type of claim and this over emphasis on 'heritage' may not be exclusive to Americans but in the US certainly is where I have noticed it most. Perhaps it is because America is a huge melting pot of immigrant nations and so heritage is a point of difference, I have no idea. I really haven't quite worked out why there appears to be such a desire to be '______/American' and not simply 'American'. I can't imagine describing myself as Irish-English or if I get Swiss citizenship as English-Swiss.
I often get asked where I come from. In Switzerland it is clear from my appalling German (and some would say my colourful dress sense) that I am not Swiss. After I have answered by saying that I am from England then the conversation usually moves on quickly with a focus on my appalling German, the latest football disaster or my capacity to drink a large volume of alcohol whilst wearing stiletto sandals in the middle of the winter.
During my current stay in NYC I probably get asked where I come from at least 2 or 3 times a day. The minute I open my mouth to buy something, ask directions or simply say thank you it is clear I am not American. And so the question is asked. Again my usual answer is to simply say "I'm from England". Often this is sufficient and the follow-up can be anything from "I love your accent" to a story about how the person I am talking to was once in England or knows someone from England etc etc.
If the conversation develops then things get more complicated. Sure, I was born in England, but I haven't lived there for almost 10 years and 'home' is now Switzerland (I'm even going through the citizenship process). So when people are asking me if I know the restaurant they once went to in Manchester and I stop them to explain that I haven't lived there for 24 years I can tell by their faces they find it a bit confusing. Perhaps the same confused face I have when I meet someone from the Bronx who tells me they are Italian-American and that they can recommend a great restaurant that does Italian style deep pan pizza.
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