Monday, September 16, 2013

Expat Q&A (Homesickness)

There's something I've been nervous to admit on this blog, dear readers.  Some of the reason I haven't wanted to share it is because I'm afraid it will make you question the mission of Betsy Transatlantically; much of the reason is because putting it into words and publishing them makes it official.  But, thanks in large part to conversations with Gesci and Belinda and Karen, women I respect enormously who know what it's like to expatriate, I'm gathering my courage.  Ready?  Here goes:

I have no idea when I will next be in England.

I traditionally spend every Christmas with Jon's family, but this year we're going to the Bahamas to celebrate my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary.  Anyway, schedules and finances don't really allow a flight to London between now and the end of the year.  Jon will (hopefully) be moving over in early 2014 so that ties up a few months around then, and we'd love to do Easter in Suffolk but who knows what will be going on with his job hunt?  If Jon does manage to find something relatively quickly after arriving, he won't be able to take off so soon after being hired.  And - well, there's so much unknown right now that I can't even really think about what summer 2014 might look like.  So yes: Betsy Transatlantically doesn't know when she will again be transatlantic.

(In case Jon's mum is reading this: don't panic!  We promise to be there next Christmas.  That's the good part about your daughter-in-law being a Jewish American.  My parents always get us for Thanksgiving and you always get us for Christmas.)

However, the wonderful friends I mentioned above pointed out that, my post from last week notwithstanding, being an expat isn't just about geography.  I call myself an expat/repat and really do believe I can hold both of those two identities concurrently, but we all agreed it does cause some serious confusion in my soul.

For today's Expat Q&A hosted by Belinda and Bailie, therefore, I'm going to focus on the second question they've posed but I'm turning it a bit on its head:

What is your biggest trigger for homesickness?

I love living in DC.  I love being so close to my family, I love being bombarded with great customer service, and I love having access to familiar American conveniences.  It's wonderful to be back in my hometown, making it my own as an adult.  At the same time, part of me constantly wishes I were back in London - and that homesickness is present all the time in the littlest things.  It's not about Jon being there and me being here; it's about the life and routines I left behind when I returned to the US.

Like I said in that post about what "expat" means to me, making another country your home isn't fundamentally about the momentous changes you go through.  (At least, it's isn't to me.)  It's about the small pieces of your new normal: remembering that you have to look up movie times by the company that owns the cinema rather than by film and neighborhood, planning your weekly grocery shop around Sunday trading hours, and knowing that some tube stations just aren't worth the effort during peak commuting times no matter where you need to go at rush hour.  So those are the elements of life in London I miss the most.  My homesickness is triggered by the mundane things...

- emails from TfL about trackwork on the Northern, Victoria, or Jubilee lines.

- targeted online ads from John Lewis even on American websites

- spotting a Neal's Yard Dairy cheese at Whole Foods

- ordering obscure English beers at a DC bar (Bier Baron, I'm looking at you)

- texts from Jon of live updates about the horrifying shenanigans of drunk fellow passengers on the N20 night bus in the wee hours of the morning on the weekend.

- not being able to buy my usual grocery staples at Giant or Safeway (I just want an OXO cube, okay? that shouldn't be so much to ask!)

- Instagrams of lazy afternoons spent in the garden behind The Windsor Castle

- letters from 02 and HSBC asking if I'd like to reopen my accounts

- pulling out a recipe or cookbook that measures ingredients in grams and milliliters

- getting a Facebook invite for a friend's birthday party in London

Great.  Now I'm homesick for London!  Thanks a lot, Belinda and Bailie... thank goodness I have a Skype with Jon to look forward to this evening!  In the meantime, I think I'm going to put on the kettle and make a batch of these yummy ginger scones.  That should help, right?  Or it might make things worse - but at least I'll have tea and a snack to take the edge off!


  1. I'm really *feeling* this post. I've been in the US 6 weeks, after 4 years in London and I have no idea when I will next be there.

    It is so weird trying to get used to life in my homeland again (looking left while crossing the road, how direct deposits work, having designated drivers) and just the little things make me miss London. Now TfL emails about obstruction at Earls Court make homesick instead of angry- who'd of thought?

    I think this quote really sums it up:

    “It was when I realised I had a new nationality: I was in exile. I am an adulterous resident: when I am in one city, I am dreaming of the other. I am an exile; citizen of the country of longing.”
    - Suketu Mehta


    I hate to say that this never gets easier, at least in my experience. I have friends who have been expats with their American husbands, and it is much easier to basically leave behind your expat experience when you move back, not because you don't want to remember it or you didn't enjoy it but because there is no longer the same connection to whatever country you lived in. They may have loved it, but it was a stopgap in their life, and while it may have had more of an impact than living in, say, Iowa, I just think it is different than when you live somewhere because of love, because of being in a relationship with someone from that country (I am not trying to diminish others experiences here, I promise!). I will always, as will you, have a deep connection to the UK. There will always be weddings and parties and funerals and holidays you miss, and ones you can attend. There is a blessing and a curse to being in a marriage with spouses from different countries, and I don't know if you will ever get past the yearning to be over there while you are over here.

    I still look at properties in Wimbledon, I still read the Wimbledon paper, I still wonder what we would be doing and where we would be living if we were still in London. Friends post pictures on Facebook and it instantly takes me back there, and makes me look up airfare to see if we could go for a weekend (ps, we never can! Boo) We go back every year, sacrificing other trips we could take so that we can give our kids that connection to half of their heritage. It kills me that we can't travel somewhere else, but if it is longer than a year between trips I start missing it like crazy.

    I also feel this way about DC, and it has been 10 years since I lived there :)

  3. When I had to go back to America, TFL updates were always what did me in and made the tears gather! xx

  4. Really sweet post. I'm sure your heart will always be split between two places, but it will become easier when you and Jon are together, I bet. You're lucky to be able to call two beautiful countries your home, no matter where you are currently living.

  5. I get all of these and feel a little more homesick reading about them! I had emails about the congestion charge for ages after we lived here in Canada but I just couldn't turn them off... so silly! Unless Jay shops somewhere I have yet to discover the only OXO we have in Canada is in sachets and it's NOT the same cubes, goodness knows why??? and what I wouldn't do for some Bisto gravy granules sometimes..........

  6. We have a little sign hanging in the entryway that says : Home is where the Army sends us. And we have the different places we've been hanging on twine below it along with the keys to the houses we've had together. Looking at that triggers a little bit of homesickness, but it also reminds me that we've been able to make a home pretty much wherever we are. Maybe I can't find all my staples in the store, but I'm always discovering new and interesting things, and I'm hoping that when we someday figure out where our forever home is going to be, we can bring a lot of those things with us.

  7. I know exactly what you mean about TFL emails - I still get emails about the Ferry crossing service in Vancouver and it makes me miss it so much. I can't bring myself to cancel them!

  8. This post was so to the core and wonderful. This summer I had to tell my family I would most likely not be in California again for another 4 years and the looks on their faces was so hard to see but like you it is all about timing and where life currently is that has to be dealt with.
    I know though that when we were living in California together it seemed that part of us was always back in Europe, either Sweden or England, and when we came back we felt so much more complete and content than before and the California longing is not as acute. I think it is all about finding where the home of your heart is and then while you will always be missing somewhere it can not be as big of a part of your life.

  9. Ah, I know the feeling. At the moment I experience home sickness for California... but even after a couple of weeks stateside there are other things I long for in SA. The life of an expat is bitter sweet. xxx

  10. As we sit on this side of the Atlantic - preparing to hop to the other, I am trying to fathom what being an 'expat' will be like. I already know what we'll miss here: family, friends, lacrosse, peanut butter. But from our travels - and thanks to blogs like yours, I have an inkling about what we're gaining there. So thanks for posting this, for encouraging the comments and questions. And for giving me so much to consider and anticipate.

  11. Well said, Bailie. And I love that last sentence; it's what I believe whole-heartedly.

  12. I think not knowing when you're going to be going 'home' is one of the worst parts about being an expat. As long as I have a date and a scheduled trip to Dublin, NY, or Texas, I can look at my calendar and be content with my countdown. It's the not knowing that sucks. x.

  13. adventuresofalondonkiwiSeptember 23, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    Fab quote, and so true sometimes!


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