You know what they say: you can’t go home again.
I never really understood the meaning of these words until I moved abroad.
I’ve taken two trips back ‘home’ (Portland, Oregon) since I moved to France a year ago, both of which were quite eye-opening.
These trips back home made me realize that I’m now experiencing my home country as a visitor rather than a resident. The differences can be both vast and subtle, but believe me when I say that they are there.
First, there are little differences, things I never noticed about my home before that now stand out in stark contrast to where I currently reside. On my latest trip home it struck me how bizarre it is that so many people have vanity license plates on their vehicles. I never thought that was weird before.
Next, there are bigger differences, things that make me question my long-held cultural beliefs and standards. Consumerism is much more rampant back home than it is here in France, and it’s something that I feel I don’t identify with anymore.
Finally, there are the things I see with new eyes, those that I didn’t appreciate until they weren’t a part of my life anymore. For me, anything convenience-related is always a big draw to get me in the mood to go back home. I can’t believe how much I miss food delivery services sometimes.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts is the difference in how I relate to people back home. I’m seeing everything differently, but everyone I know is continuing on with their lives like nothing has changed.
Of course, plenty has changed for them, too. There are no shortage of engagement announcements, baby showers, and other big life events flooding my Facebook feed.
What I mean is most people back home still see that home the same way they have for years. Maybe they travel outside the country every so often, but when they come home they feel relief rather than alienation.
I thought I understood what it would feel like to “come home again” after returning from my 8-month backpacking trip, but now I’m learning the real meaning of reverse culture-shock.
It’s one thing to return from a whirlwind trip and feel frustrated by the lack of adventures in your day-to-day life back at home. No one can really understand the amazing things you experienced and how they changed you, and no one really wants to hear about it either.
A few people will scan through your photos on social media, but for the most part hearing about someone else’s vacation is like listening to someone else’s dreams. Only those that really care about you will put on a “listening face” and suffer through it.
Now, returning home after packing up your life and actually moving to another country? Completely different.
When you live in another country, you’re not there just to have a good time. You’re not exploring new places every day and eating in restaurants for every meal.
You’re grocery shopping, and doing the laundry, and suffering through the bureaucratic nightmares of filling out paperwork after paperwork after paperwork just to be able to legally remain in your new home.
You develop new routines, new ways of doing all those day-to-day tasks that make up a life rather than a vacation. You start to live more like the locals do, pick up their habits, their language (hopefully), and maybe even some of their customs.
But try as you might, you don’t really fit in like a local does. There will be customs that irk you, practices that truly piss you off, and the ever-present feeling of culture shock.
Here’s the big question I’m wrangling with: If France doesn’t feel like home, and my home doesn’t feel like home, then where do I belong?
Is it possible to become a “citizen of the world” and feel at ease no matter where I’m living?
To spend this precious time in France feeling more like an explorer, and less like an outsider?
To take this opportunity to open myself up to new and better experiences, rather than trying to stuff myself into boxes labeled “French” and “American?”
I certainly hope so.
I’m heading into my second year living as an expat in France, and I’m determined to make this year better than the last.
So what if I don’t fit in? I’m a bona fide weirdo no matter where I’m living, and I’m okay with that.
So what if we live in a small town where I can’t make any friends? I live 45 minutes from an airport and flights within the EU are super cheap.
So what if the local grocery store has less than a quarter of what I’d find in an American supermarket? I can be more creative with my recipes and keep cooking anyway.
This post wasn’t meant to be a “new-year, new-me” diatribe, but there you have it.
I have big plans for this year.
Next week I’m headed to Southern Spain for 10 days to get some inspiration for more vegetarian tapas recipes.
After that, I’ll be in Tuscany for a few weeks to take lots of cooking classes and explore the wine regions.
Later this Spring, I’m finally going to Malta, a place that’s been on my list for years now.
In the summer, I have friends coming over for a few weeks.
Then my boyfriend and I are planning a month-long camping trip through the British Isles.
The plan is to do everything I can to spark my creativity and inspire me to return to something that I truly love: writing recipes and stories to share with all of you.
So thank you, dear reader, for having my back and always being there to keep me on my toes.
Thank you for continuing to follow my adventures, whether they are in my kitchen or across the ocean.
Most of all, thank you for providing me with this place where I can always come home again.