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'
One of the things about having lived in different countries and in different continents is that you learn to adapt. Its either adapt and survive or spend your time as an expat moaning about the lack of whatever food ingredient/service/weather that you tried to buy.
I had a few moaning moments this week that prompted me to I put together a list of all the things I miss or missed at some point over the last 9 years.....
In Switzerland I miss:
*Constant hot water, here we don't have mains gas so its back to old style emersion heaters that remind me of the UK in the 70's.
*The huge selection of toiletries in the supermarkets or in Boots in the UK.
*going for a country walk and stopping off at the pub for lunch like in the UK.
*Having a pool and gym in the building as in Hong Kong and Singapore.
*shops being open on Sundays like they are just about everywhere!
*'normal' pours of wine in a bar. 100ml which is the standard size is really just a sample!
In the USA I missed:
*Being able to walk to the shops. No sidewalks meant a walk anywhere was dicing with death.
*good bread. The bread I bought in the US looked great on the outside, but inside it all looked the same, a little like ciabatta/sourdough. Bizzare.
*the flower markets in Asia.
*being able to get a taxi anywhere at anytime for a couple of dollars as in Asia.
*Cheese and salami. Unless you can find a specialist deli who imports cheese and salami you are stuck with the selection in the supermarkets which tastes like plastic.
In Singapore I missed:
*seasons. Its a bit odd when everyday is 24-28 with 90% humidity with a rain shower in the afternoon.
*reasonably priced vegetables/wine/meat. Everything was imported and really expensive.
*being able to go for a walk without being drenched in sweat.
*having a conversation that wasn't littered with 'can lah' and other such nonsense.
In Hong Kong I missed:
*having a chat with the taxi driver, or in fact even having the taxi driver being able to understand me.
*'fat size' clothing. If you are anything over a UK 8 / USA 4 then being told "missy no fat sizes here" becomes a regular occurrence when entering HK clothing stores!
*bread. The bread in Hong Kong is so bad that this was where I first bought a bread machine.
*Cakes. Cakes in Hong Kong looked fabulous, but tasted like they had been made solely from different coloured spray cream.
There were of course all the food and clothing things you can't get in other countries that constantly drive you mad. I often visit 2/3 different places to gather all the ingredients I need for a recipe.
I have also become pretty good at shopping internationally....
I would buy Asian spices and curry pastes in Hong Kong and take them to friends in the UK on visits home, re-filling my suitcase with bacon and suet and biscuits to take back to Hong Kong.
In the USA I would take gifts from Ralph Lauren Polo and bring back cheese and salami.
In Switzerland I buy chocolates and take them as gifts and bring back yeast and baking powder in large pots (only sold in small sachets here).
When visiting friends in Japan I take salami and bring back table wear and gadgets from Tokyo Hands. When travelling to the US I take an empty case and buy trainers, Michael Kors and Nine West.
I still buy things in Asia that are very expensive in Europe. When visiting Singapore I buy the Laksa soup packets and in Tokyo I buy the fabulous Japanese crackers.
Of course as an expat the biggest thing I miss when I have lived anywhere is friends and family. Old friends from school and work and even new friends you meet along the expat journey are of course all skype-able but you can't put a price on dropping into a friends for a cup of tea / glass of wine and having a good natter.
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