Expat Story: Wherever I lay my hat
There's no place like home when away is home and home is away. Thoughts from a three-legged Norwegian with one leg in Luxembourg, one in France and one in Norway.
Where is home when you get a new home country? Can several places be home? And where is home, really? Choose the alternative(s) that suit(s) you best:
- Where naked little feet tread the grass, small sprouts are allowed to grow?
- Where you have lived for the longest time?
- In a room in a house in a garden?
- In the city or in the countryside or in the country?
- In an environment or a culture?
- Wherever you lay your hat – or your toothbrush for that matter?
- Where your heart is, or your nearest and dearest?
- Or quite simply where you feel at home?
There will be no evaluation or analysis of the answers; it is up to each reader to do that on their own. But I dare to guess – and hope – that many will select the last alternative, often in combination with one or several of the others.
An optional follow-up question for reflection: What makes you feel at home – or not at home?
My answer would be about feeling good within the four walls of the house, in the city and in the culture and about having good friends. To have my little family there with me would be an unquestionable condition. Back to the roots? Not those of my childhood tree, but perhaps to the roots that the mother country embraces her children with, as most mothers do. Or perhaps where new roots are put down.
Because what happens when you get new walls, in a new city, in a new country and in a new culture? That's when you really feel the embrace of the mother country – her linguistic embrace, not mainly the spoken language, but all the codes fed to us through the breast milk and that we don't reflect upon until we find ourselves in a new place with a whole new set of codes. In a culture and a society that these codes are a natural part of.
How do we act here? How do we behave towards one another? How do things work, like healthcare, social care, kindergartens and schools? Put simply, how do we live here?
Learning a new way of living requires time and energy, and it is a lot about the little things that you didn't even think about back home because they were automatic. To feel at home in a new country takes even longer, and this is where the roots come in. Some roots must be put down in foreign soil, and the most important helpers is the social network.
Friends. Making new friends takes time. So, the nice baker on the corner or the neighbour can become important helpers to start with. Then you must work up an understanding for and – perhaps even more importantly – a feeling for the country, for cultural, social and geographical surroundings. That's when a feeling of home might come sneaking up on you and you realise that it is possible to feel at home in more places than one.
The paradox is that getting roots in a new place might cause a certain rootlessness, as if the new roots tore up the old. Not quite at home in the new country as a foreigner, not quite at home in the old country, influenced by a different culture and from being able to see your home country from the outside – for better and worse.
This might all be a bit confusing. And to add to the confusion, you could also try to make a home in a third country – because it feels like home...
A toothbrush in each country? Perhaps, but you should carefully choose where you put them.
I have a toothbrush in a house in a funny little country with a funny little language and many other languages on every street corner called Luxembourg, who calls itself the green heart of Europe and who's kind of sneaking its way into my heart. I have a toothbrush in a wry little apartment in an old town in France, and if I ever forget where my heart is, I'll be sure to find it there.
And I have a toothbrush in a sailboat in Norway, our summer place back home. And when the sea is lustrous, the night is bright and I can see with outside eyes, in a flicker of dog rose nostalgia, I can feel my roots and I can picture myself having toothbrushes there on a more permanent basis.
Unni is a woman, an expat, a mum and a wannabe writer, born and raised in Norway, living in Luxembourg since 2005 and with an infinite love for France. Share her expat experiences at her blog http://anorwegianinlux.blogspot.com
Reprinted from ExpatWomen.com, the largest free global website helping expatriate women living overseas.
Photo credit: Toothbrushes by bptakoma (Flickr.com)
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