I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the concept of home lately. It seems like moving to London has made me realize more than ever, that to me, home is a very fickle and fleeting little thing.
I’m a citizen of one country, but I grew up in another. That throws many people off – especially people dealing with the distribution of National Insurance Numbers in the Greater London area, it seems – even though it’s not that uncommon. For me, the important country has always been the one I grew up in – after all, that’s the one that provided my daily surroundings for the first 21 years of my life. And it’s not like we’re talking crazy exotic surroundings here, I grew up in northern Germany. I know people who have lived the majority of their lives in sunny California, because that’s where their parents decided to move. I have friends who have spent part of their childhood in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium – you name it. So I think it’s safe to say, that in this context, Germany is not very exotic, nor is it far away from the country that’s listed under citizenship in my passport – Denmark. None the less, my upbringing seems to have installed in me a belief that home isn’t necessarily a geographical concept. And most importantly, it isn’t just one thing.
At the age of 16, I went to live in Andalusia, Alabama for a year, as an exchange student. My reasons for coming to the south, as opposed to any other part of the United States, were not exactly well researched – let’s just say Gone with the Wind was involved – but for some magic reason I felt at home immediately. When I think about it after all these years, I can’t help but feel like I must have been an Alabamian in a former life. How else would you explain the randomness of ending up in a small town in southern Alabama, and feeling like you’ve found your home away from home? When I returned to Germany after a year, I knew two things for sure. 1: I had made friendships that would last a lifetime. 2: I could forget about ever having all my loved ones on the same continent, let alone in the same country.
In the past six months, I have been fortunate enough to make some lovely new friends, and whenever that happens, it usually causes me to compare their version of home to mine. For example, I have met a whole group of wonderful people from the land down under – they not only have the most adorable accents, they also represent a very geographically concentrated version of home. When they talk about home, they talk about Sydney, about their parents and extended families, and about friends that they’ve known for most of their lives. So suddenly I find myself thinking, am I an egoistic cynic, who doesn’t know what home means? I don’t think I am. For me ‘back home’ – aka parents, childhood, high school, oldest friends – is located in at least three different places. So my version of home is bound to be rather loosely defined – as well as constantly changing. Am I jealous of people who have it all in one spot? I don’t think I am. I just like contemplating the differences.
At the age of 30 years and a couple of months, the math looks approximately like this: 6 months in the United Kingdom, 1 year in the United States, 8 years in Denmark and 21 years in Germany. And even though I have no idea what the next 30 years will bring, I’m pretty sure they are going to add at least a few countries to that equation.
So if home isn’t geographical, what is it then? What gives me that fuzzy and warm feeling in the stomach? People speaking German – no matter where in the world they happen to be. The smell of Clinique Happy. Sitting at the dinner table in my parents’ house. Somebody saying Ma’am or Sir – preferably with a southern accent. Riding my bike in Copenhagen. Listening to Sweet Home Alabama. Drinking red wine and eating cheese. The smell of my parents’ garden on a summer night. Does the occasional absence of these things mean that I’m less content with where I am? No. Their presence just means that I’m reminded of my happy places. And it just so happens that I have quite a few of those – geographically as well as mentally.
My mom has kindly asked me not to put an ocean between us – which means that the United States, Australia and the likes are out of the question. Well, at least for longer periods of time, she’d be fine with a year or two – I think. So for now, that is my definition of home – a city that inspires me and makes me happy, politicians that don’t piss me off too badly, and no large body of water between me and the ‘rents. Or, in the words of a very clever and extremely well-dressed lady: »The most important thing in life is your family… In the end, they’re the people you always turn to. Sometimes it’s the family you’re born into and sometimes it’s the one you make for yourself.« That’s how I feel about home.
Another version of home...
Another version of home...