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I die a little
August 20, 2013 11:48 PM   Subscribe

"My first taste of Europe. My first realisation that a border is just a line – you cross it and nothing changes. No, everything changes. You are in another world, which is both exactly the same and entirely different." When you leave a country to live somewhere else, where is home?
posted by mippy (24 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

Will this feeling of duality ever subside? Never.

In fact, it just gets worse. But none of us knew that when we started down that path in our youth, nor would we have understood or even cared had someone explained it to us.
posted by digitalprimate at 12:16 AM on August 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

Granted, some of the possibilities were terrifying, but you don't think about those when you're nineteen. A neat little, multilingual, cocky bundle produced by the European Project. A proud European citizen, who travelled around and chose the UK to study and make a life for himself.

This guy is confusing being an immigrant with being a European. I was in Helsinki yesterday, speaking with an Austrian who is living in Switzerland and working in London for a German firm. This is an extreme example, but the internal movement of people within the EU is so common that it is generally unremarkable. For such people there is no feeling of duality, but a comfortable understanding that being able to live in such a manner is one of the HUGE benefits of the "European Project". It is my observation (having immigrated to Europe from America almost 20 years ago) that people here see themselves as less and less Austrian/German/Dutch and more and more as Europeans. A Greek living in the UK should feel no more like an "immigrant" than someone from New Jersey moving to Nebraska.

But there are exceptions I suppose.
posted by three blind mice at 12:46 AM on August 21, 2013 [13 favorites]

Just to be a bit contrary,

One could fit ~1300 Microcebus berthae, or about 16% of the estimated global population in 2000 before a lot of deforestation, into a carry on bag if you had no soul, jumped on it, and squeezed it a bunch.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:00 AM on August 21, 2013

This article could be about someone who has moved from Los Angeles to NYC, true.

But I think the author agrees with you, three blind mice. The point is that the UK is making noises about not wanting to be part of this European Project. And if he is not an immigrant then how does any of the recent statements made by the UK that it wants to limit "abuse" by EU migrants make any sense at all? It'd be like New York saying it wants to limit abuse by immigrants from California.
posted by vacapinta at 1:04 AM on August 21, 2013

The weather back home… Is London now officially “back home”? Or is Greece, still?

I solved that problem by deciding that I have two homes, that erases some of the dichotomy of being part of two often separate worlds.

I recently read that a Home Office spokesman said: "We are focusing on cutting out the abuse of free movement between EU member states”. I wonder what that means. How can I abuse my legal right? I wonder where that leaves me. Whether in six months, or a year, or five, I will be asked to pack a life's worth of belongings and leave the country in which I have lived and worked and fallen in love and watched cricket and gone on marches and got drunk and cooked my mother's recipes and helped make what it is, for twenty-three years.

This is so true at the moment. I have been wondering about the same thing myself. All those talks about the immigration vans in England, called 'immigration' and not 'illegal xxx' has made it a bit difficult to feel integrated and wholly part of England when you hear all the abuse directed towards immigrants. Sure, most people will say it is against illegal immigrants, but you feel the tide could engulf any foreign national. Especially with the UK's current attitude towards Europe. Quite often, I get the remark "blah blah blah immigrants" and when I point out I am one, I get "but not you, you're French". Somehow, that really does not feel reassuring.
posted by tweemy at 1:25 AM on August 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

That place I called home is no longer that place I called home. Hasn't been there for years. I was away too much for too long, and it changed too much too fast. So home is where my stuff is, and it changes from time to time.

But I'm not European, and I got my start at this while moving between US states and cities. I am "from" lots of places, and every place I've lived had something good about it, and something to be missed. But now that's spread out over 3 continents and 5 countries.
posted by Goofyy at 1:50 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

A Greek living in the UK should feel no more like an "immigrant" than someone from New Jersey moving to Nebraska.

I'm not an immigrant myself, but surely the change in language, religion, ethnic diversity and culture would make, say, Greece to the UK feel as foreign as Greece to, I dunno, Chile? Europe might be easier to integrate between and move around from countries, but it certainly isn't a monolith. Plus, the UK has a strong sentiment of not wanting to be part of Europe or not seeing itself as 'European', in part thanks to the right-wing press.

I moved from the north of England to London, and my SO from Scotland to London, and even then we find ourselves wondering where 'home' is, because culturally and socio-economically it feels very different - possibly like moving from, I dunno, Seattle to LA. Scots, as you probably know, have a very strong national identity and living in England for decades wouldn't lead to them calling themselves 'English'. And that's with having the same passport and, mostly, the same language* as those born in London.
posted by mippy at 2:28 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

the internal movement of people within the EU is so common that it is generally unremarkable. For such people there is no feeling of duality

So his clearly expressed feeling of duality doesn't count because some Europeans don't (yet) share it? A young European moving around for a few years might not feel as torn, but I have no doubt that his feelings are commonplace among people who have been living in another country within Europe for almost 20 years. As digitalprimate says, it just gets worse.

As an Australian in the UK I should on many measures have less feeling of duality than a non-native English speaker living here; but there are other measures where I no doubt have more, not least that it costs thousands of pounds and takes over 24 hours to fly back to see family. So on the whole, I could identify with this piece very well.

Before I moved to another country, I moved to another state within Australia, and felt almost the same feeling of duality. Family were still a long way away, and there were enough differences in landscape and attitudes and focus and even flora and fauna that it felt like a very different place. If you move from part of Australia in the Melbourne orbit to part in the Sydney orbit, you notice it every time you turn on the news.

I've been in the UK 12 years now, and I've never felt more torn between multiple homes than this year. Having kids changes things: having to deal with a different school system and philosophy, and projecting what that will be like into the future; having to think about their aging grandparents and distance from extended family.

And your adopted country chipping away at privacy and free movement on the basis of avoiding embarrassment, sorry, "terrorism", doesn't help. On the other hand, Australia is about to go back into the black hole of L-NP government. My own feeling of duality could soon be with an Australia and Britain that no longer exist.
posted by rory at 2:29 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

This guy is confusing being an immigrant with being a European.

Just to come back to this... popular fears about immigrants in the UK are as often about Europeans, as in members of EU states, as about non-Europeans. Look at all the fuss about whether Eastern Europeans are taking jobs from UK workers.

If the local population treats you like an immigrant, whether or not you're a citizen of the broader entity of the EU, you'll feel like one.

As mippy says, even internal movement within the UK can leave you feeling like an immigrant. Ask any of the English people living here in Edinburgh. On one level, nothing has changed for them; on another level, an awful lot has.
posted by rory at 2:51 AM on August 21, 2013

tweemy - 'difficult to feel integrated and wholly part of England when you hear all the abuse directed towards immigrants'

With all the work that the media and the current government (not to mention the previous government) have done in skewing the debate and muddying the waters I sometimes understand why people come out with ignorant, racist, paranoid, scapegoating, othering nonsense. Most of the time I think there is no excuse for this myopic febrile nationalistic cowardice, none. I have found it equal parts sad and amusing that UKIP are getting into the national press more often, given a wider platform to show off their their cretinous views. Clearly we are not quite back to 19th century values, despite what they might think.

On the upside, I overheard a part of a drunken conversation on the street earlier this week between two twenty something men with broad regional accents. One of them was remonstrating loudly with the other one, as I got into earshot I could hear he was saying, 'no you are a racist, don't try to sugar coat it. What you are saying is racist, if you believe it you are a racist, just admit it.' This was not a jokey exchange. I am assuming it wasn't a racist support group meeting.
posted by asok at 2:53 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I felt this even before leaving the states. Now as an American expat in Belgium I still have no idea how to answer people when they ask “Yes, but WHERE in America are you from?” Whether that means inner city Washington DC where I grew up, or hippy Olympia, Washington where I’ve spent the majority of my adult life, or Columbus, Ohio where I most recently lived and am currently registered to vote. All are just as true answers to the valid question of where exactly I am from in America, and each were almost as different experiences of life from each other from as my current life in Belgium is from them.

At the same time though, even as I start ordering stoofvlees mit fritjes en Omer at Turkish restaurants and somehow fall in love with Belgian architecture, I don’t really feel any sense of part Flemish dual identity. Maybe it’s part of how fundamentally different my New World structure of what cultural identity means is, but I haven’t really come to feel Flemish at all in the way that I came to also feel Cascadian.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:08 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've lived in England for nearly 7 years now and am about to get my Indefinite leave to remain. I always listen to the talk of immigration reform and the like with trepidation because of some of the crazy things that they throw out there. They wanted to have immigrants pay £200 for being able to use the NHS, and I was like great stop taking it out of my paycheck and I'll easily pay £200 a year hell I pay £200 a month to the NHS so I'll end up saving a whole bunch of money.

The path I used to get into the country is now closed (Tier 1 general) even though to be eligible you have to be a high value migrant. Essentially you need a PhD and a job making over £28000 a year, along with fluent english and £3000 in the bank to show that you can support yourself. It still took them 6 months to approve my extension (that I paid £1500 for) even though I exceed all of those categories. I still know I've got it good though. A friend recently asked how he could get on the visa I was on because he wanted to stay and keep working in the UK. Can't I told him because it is closed instead you'll have to find a job and have the company sponsor you on a tier 2 work permit visa, where you're only allowed to work that job, which can get stressful when you're working on contracts that change every 2 years. Neither of us has any need or ability to "access public funds" or anything like that. I do suspect that I could have had it easier because I am a Vermonter and he is from India.

I do fret a bit about how my kids childhood will probably be significantly different than mine, but honestly the thing that surprised me the most is the sameness between the two places. Obviously the USA and the UK are different and Vermont is different to Yorkshire, but even in the USA I would need to live in a big city to get a job and the same holds true in the UK. There is a lot less space, but again with allotments and the like you can still grow things so hopefully my kids are going to have those memories of weeding in the garden and pulling up beets and potatoes and eating beans and peas raw right off the plant. Just because we have a special area for growing things instead of the backyard isn't that big of a difference. I do think that it surprises most people though when they ask what living in England is like and I say that it is just like living in the USA except for different weather and better public transportation because everyone is jammed closer together. I bet there is a bigger change going from Greece than from the USA.
posted by koolkat at 3:21 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

vacapinta: "The point is that the UK is making noises about not wanting to be part of this European Project."
The UK has never truly been part of the European Project.
posted by brokkr at 3:26 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I lived in the UK until I was 13, in the US until I was 31 and in the last 12 years I've lived in Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Argentina and Guatemala. I never felt like a (US) American, the UK is a foreign country to me, although I do have family connections in both places and enjoy visiting. I've lived in Spain for more than six years, but in no way feel Spanish, much less Catalan.
What I would like is a European passport. One issued by the EU, not by any component country. It would just feel more honest. If I'm forced to define myself as anything, I would say I'm a European born in the UK who lived a long time in the USA. Awkward.
And don't get me started on the exodus that would happen if Catalunya goes it's own way.
posted by conifer at 3:39 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I do the cooking for my mother these days. That gift was one of the first things Alzheimer's stole from her. All she has left now is the love she put into every meal, but none of the knowledge. The knowledge survives in me. Every grain of salt and cumin, every clove of garlic, every sliver of octopus, every silly superstition that will prevent a bèchamel from curdling; they live on like squatters of my soul. My mother's condition has complicated things considerably. It has added to every trip the feeling that I am abandoning her, vulnerable and confused.

posted by ersatz at 3:40 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is my observation (having immigrated to Europe from America almost 20 years ago) that people here see themselves as less and less Austrian/German/Dutch and more and more as Europeans. A Greek living in the UK should feel no more like an "immigrant" than someone from New Jersey moving to Nebraska.

That is certainly true of a specific class of professional people, in e.g. IT, but far from true for the majority of EU citizens.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:05 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

The idea that citizens of the EU see themselves as Europeans and not Austrian/German/Dutch is, to this ex-pat European, completely laughable. Cosmopolitan folk, maybe, the folk that work in high finance or policy, the folk who manage money whose companies are European by design, maybe.

Ask any Italian if they feel more European or Italian and you'll hear "Italian? I am Napolitan/Venetian/Florentine," nevermind European.

And as for the two-home problem, it is a suffering that never goes away. I am very happy in the US, my husband is American, my children will be American, but there is a small part of me that wonders, truly wonders, if I'd be a simpler, happier person if I'd stayed in my small town in Italy eight years ago. When I go home (and when I'm in the US, home is Italy. When I'm in Italy, home is the US), I see moms pushing their babies in strollers and I picture my life in that particular sunlight, with those particular smells, the olives, the wind that picks up every day around 1 o'clock and blows in from the lake. It's difficult to live with your heart in two places and most days I can't tell if it's worth it.
posted by lydhre at 5:54 AM on August 21, 2013 [18 favorites]

I'm on my third country now and the feeling of dislocation and otherness is pretty much permanent for me now. Even when I go back to where I grew up in Canada it is no longer home because it has changed so much in the 20 years since I lived there and other than my parents nobody I grew up with is still there.

There is an entertaining aspect to always being a bemused other surrounded by foreign behaviours , even if it is just the small cultural differences of the anglo-western world, but there is also a loneliness to it. I'm not one of you and I am no longer one of my countrymen either now that I am tainted by life abroad (and also dodged the mandatory hockey service while I was there).

I'm not comfortable with any national anthem anymore. Jingoism and flag waving makes me feel uneasy like my neighbours may someday turn on me. Almost everyday people fight and argue over rights I do not even have and often about whether the rights I do have should be taken away.

I choose to live where I do because I like things about the places where I have lived but I don't love them the way you love your home country or town. It is more like the relationships of a post-divorce person. A kind of trust but verify with an emergency go bag packed but no idea where to bolt to.

I know I can make my way in the world but the ground beneath my feet never quite feels solid like the way it did before I emigrated.
posted by srboisvert at 6:15 AM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

I am about to move 'home' (the US) nine years after moving to Europe.

The reason I moved here is that I have a strong belief that you only grow and develop when you are outside of your comfort zone - living in a country not your own does this on a more or less permanent basis.

I am scared, not because I'm moving into the unknown, or that I feel that the experience has caused some kind of irrevocable alteration in my outlook (although that is very likely true), but instead because everything will be too easy/simple. How will I put myself out of my comfort zone? I will have to find new ways to grow, rather than having them forced on me.

There's a moment, when you live in a foreign land for some time, when you experience something in your 'home' country where something is familiar and utterly foreign at the same time. For me, this came when I was paying for something in US dollars - a totally familiar currency, but at the same time, totally not what I was used to. It didn't help that all of the bills changed appearance while I was gone.

In the end, it's a truism that 'you can never go home again' - when you go back, it's never the same as when you left and as it exists in your head. This happens at all scales, but living in a foreign country tends to amplify it a bit.

Still, I would have rather have moved and come back than to have never moved at all. The only question is - what is the next adventure?
posted by grajohnt at 6:41 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I first moved out of Australia when I was two. I'm now in the USA, thinking of moving to Europe. My sister is in Australia, thinking of moving to London or New York. My brother and his French wife are now in Australia, her family in France.

My parents, having themselves lived in a fair smattering of countries while bringing us all up, are pretty accepting of the idea that we'll all move in and out and maybe their grandkids will grow up on the other side of the world. My sisters mother-in-law, on the other hand, seems to be trying to guilt-trip my sister into promising she'll never have kids while too far away - her other son recently moved to Seattle with all their existing grandchildren and she thinks it's terrible for him to have done that to her. It's quite a trial for my sister to put up with.

A Greek living in the UK should feel no more like an "immigrant" than someone from New Jersey moving to Nebraska.
And this is rubbish. A Greek living in the UK who knows that he can't even visit home for 9 years can pretty validly feel like an immigrant or even an exile if he likes, and I don't think you can come up with any sort of analogous Nebraskan scenario.
posted by jacalata at 11:07 AM on August 21, 2013

[...] a bit difficult to feel integrated and wholly part of England when you hear all the abuse directed towards immigrants. Sure, most people will say it is against illegal immigrants, but you feel the tide could engulf any foreign national. Especially with the UK's current attitude towards Europe. Quite often, I get the remark "blah blah blah immigrants" and when I point out I am one, I get "but not you, you're French". Somehow, that really does not feel reassuring.

Yes. I've lived in the UK for over half my life now, and this bullshit persists.

As for where home is: I've adopted the stray-cat definition of home as "anywhere I get food and friends." I am good at adapting to new places, but then leaving them is always a wrench.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:09 PM on August 21, 2013

I'm currently a year into the biggest move of my life, from Australia to Switzerland. It's only recently that saying to people I'm going home to Switzerland has started to feel somewhat natural, however the sensation of being suspended, neither here nor there, still remains. Going back isn't impossible but it's not exactly viable for reasons of work and such, and there's also the pride factor of not wanting to go back until you've done everything you've wanted to do. On the other hand, there's a definite sense that while you're certainly welcome in this new city you'll never actually belong, something that's very disconcerting after living somewhere where I could wander confident and secure in the sense of 'my' territory. It's a bitter-sweet relief to read an article like this and the responses here to realise that it's perfectly normal to feel dislocated, for years, even.

Not that I'm regretting moving. The travel opportunities here are amazing. I just wish Australia wasn't over 24 hours flight away.
posted by AlienGrace at 3:25 PM on August 21, 2013

Having lived in 8 countries, worked in a bunch more and married another immigrant, home is where we make it. The location may change, but I get to say where it is. It's certainly not where I grew up.
posted by arcticseal at 4:16 PM on August 21, 2013

The last three or four times I have gone back to America, either to visit family, or on vacation, I've noticed I'm increasingly not at home there. It's where I grew up, it formed me to a very large extent, but it's not home to me anymore. Most strikingly, I've noticed that I can feel the tension of being away from home melt away as my plane lands at Narita.

It's odd, knowing that the place I call home is one where as long as I'm here, I'll always be considered 'other' and people continue to be surprised when the find out how long I've lived here, and that I intend to stay.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:09 PM on August 21, 2013

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