Cafés

Home, more or less

And a nice, friendly welcome from the Girls of Mama Racha, where I happen to be at the moment, walking half an hour from my apartment on an overcast, cool day, cool enough to wear the Boulder, Colorado sweatshirt I bought in Boulder, Colorado a couple of weeks ago.

The new blue sweatshirt

I’ve been back in Buenos Aires five days; the ships of my wife and I passed in the night: she left for Quito the day before I arrived from the States, so we have another week apart added onto the three weeks I spent in Boulder. Our apartment is quiet (especially after the weeks spent in the company of nine-year-old and six-year-old girls, who take squealing with delight — over anything at all that interests them — to new, previously unknown, decibels. Our pretty little white cat Sophie has taken to sleeping at the foot of our bed, on my wife’s side, so I do have a bright companion these dark, lonely nights.

I am not able to attach the notion of home to anyplace in the United States, although I was born there and lived there, essentially, for the first forty years of my life. When there, I enjoy the comfort of a known language, which allows me to tease waitresses, chat amiably with store clerks, understand the bus route, know what words on menus represent in terms of food, read signs, and meander thoughtlessly and without complications through the day, because language does not interfere with even simple things.

Yet, regardless, I feel alienated from that world, feeling more like a tourist just passing through than someone who belongs. I find life in the States to be easy, but not interesting. If you have enough money (which really isn’t all that much, no matter what investment bankers want you to think), then America offers an easy life, the accessibility of virtually anything at anytime, things work, most places are clean and safe, it’s a great place to go shopping, and of late even the food is nearly without competition from other cuisines.

My life in a variety of foreign places these last twenty-plus years feels more familiar to me than any life I’ve lately experienced in the States. When I am there, in America, I feel estranged, even within the bloat of familiarity.

Although maybe if my stuff was there? What makes me comfortable coming home is finding my things — books, art, bits and pieces of decor, my work tools, my clothes — waiting for me. Without these surroundings, I may as well be in some hotel, even if I am in the quite nice home of my daughter and her family.

This is not about anything. I’m just musing before making myself go back to work.

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9 replies »

  1. I think it’s the recency effect. I think one becomes more comfortable and at home with what is familiar. What is familiar is often what feels normal and comfortable, and therefore, also more recent because the past becomes less familiar over time. I find that wherever I am living, if it has been for a significant enough period of time, will inevitably end up feeling like home and places from the past will feel more and more alien. So I don’t think that America no longer feels like home to you because it is America, but because the feeling of it is being replaced by the more recent traveling lifestyle which has now become more familiar and comfortable. This is also tied to having your familiar stuff around you, as you’ve already touched upon, which is why I think wherever someone ends up long enough (assuming it’s a place or lifestyle they like, which it often is if they stay there long enough) will become “home” to them and the previous place that used to feel like home, won’t any longer. It’s not the place as much as the timing, in my opinion.

    • Looks all that money we spent on your psychology degrees is not wasted. And it’s good to see you haven’t forgotten much of it in the years since.

      Kisses to the B and B girls. And their Mom.

  2. I think it’s interesting that you find life in the States “not interesting”, but at the same time don’t think of it as home. I would think visiting any country other than your native one would spark a fairly decent level of interest, no?

    The city I live in is definitely not interesting, but that’s what makes it feel like home to me. I know pretty much everything there is to know about living here, which creates a nice sense of comfort and familiarity, but can also bore me out of my gourd.

    Although maybe you think tons of other countries aren’t interesting either, which just blows my theory to bits.

    • Hello Megan … Megan speaks!

      Maybe what is not interesting is the familiarity of it?

      At the same time, I always feel a dose of culture shock every time I am in the States. What is supposed to be foreign feels natural or normal to me, and what is supposed to be familiar feels alien. This must be hard to figure for anyone who hasn’t spent most of 25 years living outside his birth country.

      Living lengthy times in foreign places makes the exotic become familiar, while the familiar (“home”) feels exotic. Exotic is not necessarily interesting; a better word would be unnatural.

      I should make a list of all the things that seem all wrong to me when I pass through the States … beginning with: when did women get to be so fat?, are those quart-size plastic cups of something (Coke, coffee?) glued to people’s hands, because they never let go of them, even when driving or pushing a cart or walking down the sidewalk blubbering into a cell phone that the other hand has glued to an ear?, and was there always so much flagrantly selfishness?

      Topic for another time.

      Thank you for joining in the conversation.

  3. so the day may come when i go on my exile too.

    i spent a couple years in melbourne and didn’t like the place – it’s kind of quiet and conservative. since then i haven’t considered moving away from hk coz i seem to be very happy/comfortable here, and practically it’s hard to see what i can do for a living overseas. but sometimes i wonder if one day i’ll turn into a different person and rather be elsewhere than here – if you found your exile at 40 then i still have hope =)

    • Exile is good for the spirit and the knowing.

      The Hong Kong I visited a long time ago (1993) seemed vibrant, creative, and exciting. It would be a hard place to leave, but leave you should, if only to make the return so powerful.

      If there is life there is hope, and that which is not changing is already dead.