What I Think We Mean When We Say We’re Homesick

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I’ve always tended to say that I’m not really a homesick kind of person, as I’ve always thought that you have to get on with your own things and that the people who love you will always be there at the end of the phone if you need them.

Because life forces you away from your family home, the home where you waited for Father Christmas when you were little, where you returned exhausted after school to watch Friends on E4, the home with your childhood bedroom, with its worn down carpet and marks on the walls where blu tac from your posters pulled away the paint.

But being in a foreign country for the longest time I ever have been, I’ve been thinking much more about it.

What do we really mean when we say we’re feeling homesick?

home-sweet-home

Italian author Pirandello speaks about our numerous masks in Uno, Nessuno, Centomila – the idea that we wear one mask when speaking to a lecturer, another talking to a shop assistant and another chatting with an old friend.

Is home where we need no mask at all?

In French, they say mal du pays, relating it much more to the actual country we see as our home. But a country’s just an island or land separate from other islands and other areas of land. It’s not simply our country that we miss.

I suppose we’re just saying that we miss the affection of our friends and family, a sense of belonging and shared cultural touchstones.

But having just finished my first half term at Uni in France, I think it does have something to do with home too, wherever that may be.

I miss the BBC, baked beans and being able to share avocado jokes without having to explain them.

avocado

I miss Newton Abbot’s Wetherspoons, the joys of Sainsbury’s vegetarian section and Abbotskerswell’s Court Farm Inn.

And I miss being recognised by my lecturers, not having to go food shopping with WordReference open on my phone in one hand, basket in the other, and the utter luxury of being able to say meh and being understood.

As soon as I open my mouth here, my accent gives me away. As much as you try to blend in, attempting to be some kind of international chameleon, you still feel like an outsider.

I’ve found myself chatting to anyone I hear speaking English, and after living in London for two years, I’d usually be the last person to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the metro.

And I almost welled up over a Ristorante pizza in the frozen section of the supermarket the other week, just because it’s familiar – the one with the big circles of mozzarella that have been lurking in our freezers since forever.

But if I were coming home for reading week, it would probably feel like a real anticlimax, at least after a few days. I’d be itching to get back here.

It’s a relief to feel understood, being around the people who have shaped you and not having to wash your clothes or keep the fridge stocked – but those last things are just part of being an adult.

It’s exciting to be taking on this other culture and language, but I don’t think I could live live abroad, long term.

On returning home, you’d have been away too long to carry on where you left off, finding yourself in this cultural identity no man’s land.

But you’d also gain certain richness, with a first hand understanding of life in another country as well as an ability to share avocado jokes, to navigate the London underground and to appreciate the wonders of an exceptionally well-brewed cup of tea.

MILLIE

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