Thursday, January 19, 2012

Perpetual expat

I really like The Minimalist Mom and tend to follow her blog. At the moment she is living in the UK as a Canadian expat. Her account of differences in lifestyle and experiences made me ponder about my own situation. I consider myself a perpetual expat, never really being quite integrated into the culture where I live, yet not feeling at home in the country I grew up in anymore. Since I turned 18 I have lived in four countries apart from my own. The bulk part has of course been the US where I spent roughly 10 years, split between Florida (2 1/2 years) and California (southern, northern and southern again). Second comes Scotland where I lived for 2 1/2 years and now Sweden where I have spent a couple of summers and now live permanently. Well, as permanently as a perpetual expat can live somewhere because I don't expect we will be here for more than 4-5 years but who knows?

What this means, and which is why I felt sadly detached from minimalist mom's account, was that she considers her Canadian home habits and setup as the basis of her comparison. I found myself longing to have such basis, to have a 'default' country, but even Denmark where I grew up has changed so much that I have a hard time proclaiming it to be 'the best country in the world', something I was completely sure of when I moved to Florida to go to college almost 20 years ago. Instead I compare in circles, bringing out advantages from one country and culture and putting down other chacteristics. I am always the first one of my European friends to defend Americans because as a stereotypical mass they have a bad reputation here. And I am always the first one to criticize the Swedish passive aggressiveness as a way of dealing with fellow train passengers and fellow supermarket shoppers. But I always defend the Swedish social system over American disparity and I truly believe that Sweden is a better place to be a parent than the US.

It is tempting for me to say that I don't feel at home anyplace anymore but that is not true. I have learned to make myself at home in a strange setting. It also helps having a partner and now a family. It is not about things, even the special ones like the pillow your grandmother knitted or the clock you inherited from your uncle. It is about getting to know a new apartment and a new neighborhood so you can get around without looking at a map. It is about finding that cafe nearby where the staff says hi third time you show up with your laptop and ask for the internet password. And it is about getting to know where the nutella and the mango chutney is in the grocery store. When you got these things down, home is slowly forming and living in a new place becomes comfortable. I used to say that "home is a hard place to find"; I have realized that is it not about finding home but instead creating one. And I seem to get better and better at it.

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