Friday, August 31, 2012

Why do you live where you live?

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I pondered the above question a lot during my first few months living abroad.  To be honest, I suspected I was one of those people who would find they loved living in another country.  I had fallen in love with romantic notions of bakeries on corners, cities filled with bikes, relaxed mindsets, different weather...the list goes on.

I remember first pondering how I truly felt about my new home as I walked the short distance between my bank and the supermarket.  The path took me past a public fountain and the river that runs through our town where neighbors sit with children and watch ducks, or just enjoy the weather.  (In a slightly more secluded area, shadier characters enjoy alcohol and smoking, er, well, something.  But they appear to be having a nice time, too.)  It was peaceful and I loved it--so I tried to picture living here indefinitely.

It certainly seemed feasible--I'm a fairly laid-back and adaptable person.  Despite my lack of control over our moves, no one has had to drag me kicking and screaming across any borders, state or international.  I could learn German and embrace the culture--not as easily as I would Italy or France, but I could enjoy it.  I could see how people would fall in love with a culture (the way I did in Italy--I realize I'm just not a Germanic-type personality) and feel that world was superior to the one into which they were born and decide to make a permanent switch.  Why not?, I thought.

So there on the riverbank of the Lahn I began to try to list reasons to not become a permanent expatriate.  And there it was: people.  All of these people around me--who were probably really lovely people--weren't my people.  I didn't know any of them.  And sure, I could get to know them and probably would before I left, but what about all of the people I had back in the US?  Our parents, our siblings, our nephews...my grandmother (because let's face it--there's not another woman out there quite like her).  Even if I found another country and culture superior to the United States, all of those people weren't going to move there with me.

So I had to ask myself: What is important to me?  To us?  Is living in this country, or any other part of Europe, really important to us?  Will it make us that much happier that we won't mind seeing our friends and family just once or twice a year?

No, I don't think so.

And I actually don't find as much about this "world" superior as I thought I might.  There are plenty of things I am used to doing back in the States that I've had to do differently here and I know that I can--but I prefer the other way.  Can't say I haven't tried, and I haven't really complained, but I just plain prefer my American way sometimes (Exhibit A: groceries).  I don't think there's any rule saying I have to return from Europe feeling culturally converted--if so, I'll pay the fine.

There are a lot of reasons people live where they live, whether it is a dream job, a job that's not a dream but is at least steady, family, climate, not wanting to move, schools, taxes, etc.  So that's what I'd like to know: Why do you live where you live?  What challenges come from living where you live?  Would you like to change it?  Have you ever decided to up and move somewhere based primarily on just "loving" an area--its vibe, its climate--without having a job there or family or friends?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  If you think you have a lot to say and would like to share, please contact me about writing a guest post on this topic at: kelleyannie (at) over-the-threshold (dot) com

2 comments:

  1. Hi, I just came on over from a comment you made on Miss Minimalist. I thought this was a really interesting post about people.

    I am German born, culturally English and have lived in Switzerland (both French and German-speaking) most of my life, in a very international environment but strongly influenced by the large percentage of American kids who dominated our school culture. To the extent that my friends and I tried to conform at the same time as going to the other extreme of our Britishness with our accents and interests - quite a hard balance to achieve!! I guess we were "mid-Atlantics"!! And hardly influenced by Swiss culture at all.
    As a teen, I so wanted to be back in England and belong to that culture and eventually I went back for two years to do university entrance prep while my parents remained in Switzerland. I fully expected to stay there, hoping to lead a "normal" life - I always used to say it was the people that made the difference, the humour, the self-deprecating, less critical than in perfectionist Switzerland.
    Well, I had to come back to Switzerland for certain reasons and have now stayed here for nearly 30 years, after marrying a German-Swiss man and having my three daughters. The balance has shifted because now the only real family I have in England is my grandmother and everyone else who means anything to me is here! Now it is the people/family here (and the efficiency, if I'm honest!!) who make me feel that this has become my home. I have learnt the language and the culture, and almost never socialise with other ex-pats, I am fully integrated, and yet will always be English and proud of it. Now when I return to England, I am a foreigner there - my way of speaking is relatively old-fashioned and the inefficiency drives me crazy. The people are still lovely and funny but I would no longer want to live there permanently. In fact, I wouldn't want to live anywhere than I do, where most of my family lives. Those who move away always come back here to the "hub"! And anyone else is thrilled to have an opportunity to visit me in Switzerland ;)

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  2. Hey there! Thanks for taking the time to share your story. It sounds like you've definitely had an interesting life discovering your cultural identity and where "home" really is. I always feel that home is wherever I am with my husband--and if I had to choose a physical place it would be upstate NY--a place I have never actually lived. Home is an interesting concept that many people don't have such opportunities to consider so deeply.

    I hope you keep reading!

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