Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.
A friend’s recent blog post got me thinking about the concept of home, particularly about how it relates to those of us throwing darts at a map to see where we shall be living next. The ex-pat life is one of extremes and contradictions. On one hand you realize that home really is where you lay your head, where you have your immediate family safe and accounted for. On another, you realize that home is also the place where foundations were laid. That home, be it the town you grew up in, the country you identify with, or the longitude and latitude that account for the way you thread your way across life’s stage, is a place that pulls you like no other. On one hand there is the thrill and excitement of living in a new place, exploring new surroundings. On another, there is the niggling notion that no matter how long you live there, how fluently you speak the language, how adept you become at pretending you like herring in curry sauce, you are never really going to be home.
There’s a difference between making a home and being home.
On the international circuit, you become wearily accustomed to hellos and good-byes. At first it can be difficult to invest in friendships when you know that not all that far into the future you will be bidding adieu. But friendships among ex-pats evolve in dog years and accordingly feel much more intense. Without the proximity of Nana and Papa and Aunties and Uncles and those friends you can rely on when your water breaks in the middle of the night, you are forced to create your own community. Like Sim City. But in real life. Friends become fast friends a more quickly than normal because you rely on them much more heavily than you would in normal circumstances. 10 years of normal-time friendship is compressed, so that after six months, it’s as if you’ve known someone forever. Your fellow internationals become your friends, family, neighborhood and town. When I lived in Cyprus, there was a mother’s group which organized (with military precision) food delivery for new mothers. I had two babies in New York City, a place where I lived for nearly 20 years, and no one so much as threw a take-out menu at me.
But…. there is also something to be said for living in a static community. A place where your children go to school with the same friends from kindergarten through graduation. A place where they play sports and are cheered on by their peers or perform in badly adapted plays in the drama club. A place where they experience a first girlfriend or boyfriend. One they don’t have to worry is going to move to another continent after an intense 18 month love story.
Home is where you make it. But home is also where you feel the most comfortable. And while I feel pretty comfortable here in Denmark (a place where my inner socialist feels free to jig about) it’s not the same ease I feel in the US. There is something relaxing about being surrounded by your mother tongue. I can slouch a bit more when I go home. I don’t have to be as vigilant because I’m not worrying, in the back of my mind, that I’m offending someone. I have a general sense of knowing when it’s okay to flip someone off and when it’s not (note: do not EVER give someone the finger when in Northern Cyprus). I am better at reading facial expressions, body language, and at reading between the lines when I am home. I can breathe a bit more easily. Or more accurately, I can exhale that one large breath I never realize I am holding in until I land after a day’s travel and greet my mother and sister.
Whether or not this is a product of transient living or if it a simple case of not living in the place where your earliest memories of social interaction were formed, I couldn’t tell you. But I can tell you that it exists.
So it’s nice to go home. Where everyone knows my name.