When You Travel Back To The Motherland And Feel Like A Tourist

When You Feel Like A Tourist In Your Own Country

Anybody who has migrated to another country will understand the conundrum of whether “home” will always be the place in which you were born or your adopted country.

At this stage of life – the old AF period just prior to death – the question can become all the more poignant with our tendency to become over- nostalgic.

The grass appears infinitely more lush in the company of family, old friends, Jelly Babies – not the green ones, obviously – and Earl Grey tea.

And it’s easy to fantasize and get carried away with how great everything is when you’re on holiday and everyone seems excited to see you and eager to catch up on your news.

It’s particularly easy in London at Christmas time, a city that morphs into the chocolate-box fantasy created in films like The Holiday and Love Actually, if you let your imagination run away from you.

Few countries do Christmas as well as the UK, and Brussel sprout-flavored crisps, decadent Advent calendars with drawers for gifts, mince pie cocktails, and pubs with real fires suck you right back into its charm quickly.

And yet, there have been changes in the country since my last visit.

Not that it should really come as any surprise to find that one’s home country has evolved at a similar pace to one’s adopted one – indeed, much faster when it comes to cities – but subtle changes can cause problems for the out-of-touch, middle-aged tourist, returning to the land of her birth. I refer to the need to remember that pounds do not equate to Aussie dollars, which was something I struggled with, in spite of the intense schooling provided by the old man for several weeks prior to my departure about the meaning of the word budget.

A number of times, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief at the cost of a round of drinks or a dinner out, only to remember later that I was paying in pounds, not Aussie dollars.

Admittedly, maths were never my strong suit at school – as was proven when I was hoisted up to top set maths for two weeks in Year 9, only to be dropped back down as quick as a hot potato when my teacher discovered that my new (and impressive) marks had less to do with any previously undiscovered talent and more to do with my access to the answers to our homework in the back of our textbook.

However, in spite of my struggle with basic mathematics – I remember that decimal points and percentages were particularly tiring – I still managed to achieve a first-class degree in spending money, a skill that I have since learned can be highly dangerous during trips to the motherland, in which the currency has become …well…a bit foreign. Added to which, I am not used to carrying cash in my purse – a rule instigated by the old man during Kurt’s pick-pocketing stage (which now has more to do with my husband’s micro-management of my problem) – which means that I struggle to fully understand its value.

It is very easy to convince yourself that you are richer than your husband has ever allowed you to believe when you add in the complication of a foreign currency that looks and feels as genuine as Monopoly money. And as pounds no longer feel “real” to me – particularly those I withdrew from the very generous overdraft facility of a dormant British bank account that (I hope) the old man has forgotten exists – I knew that I had to be careful with coins that resemble the old French franc and tiny bits and bobs of silver – that my father calls “shrapnel” – which frankly could be Italian Lire.

“Bits and bobs” was an example of cockney rhyming slang that Jeff Goldblum attempted to get to the bottom of during his jazz show at Cadogan Hall, which we saw whilst in London – Yass, darlink! Jeff was merely attempting to understand the meaning of expressions such as mince pies for eyes and apples and pears for stairs – obvious, really – and yet I found myself identifying with the expression each time I waded through the play money at the bottom of my purse in search of a tip for a cab or the 30p now charged for a pee in several of London’s larger train stations.

Such changes, along with Pret’s egg and cress sandwich, (stiff competition for the M & S version in my opinion), the choice of the medium or large servings of wine in pubs, dogs in pubs, and the 12.5% service charge, were only a couple of a succession of changes that had me feeling like a tourist in my own country at times, and at others, completely at “home.”

 

Has Western Society Compromised Community For Adventure?

I read this article  by Hugh Mackay this morning, and it reinforced my view that one of the main reasons behind the increase in mental illness in the modern world is a disappearing sense of community and isolation. The accusation that perhaps we’ve got our priorities wrong in terms of our lifestyle choices makes perfect sense to me. adventure-1867386_1280-1

 

After the old man and I had one of those weekly regret-box conversations the other night, about where our lives went wrong, we came to the conclusion that we’ve moved house, neighbourhood and countries too often in our thirty-something years together – a decision that has not only affected the state of our personal wealth but more importantly, our connection to others.

 

We have good friends in both countries and in the neighbourhoods we’ve left behind, but the old man says that if my itchy feet hadn’t forced him to jump ship so frequently, we would have deep-rooted friendships by now and a true sense of security borne of being an integral part of a neighbourly community.

 

So sayeth the introvert.

 

‘But we’ve had more experiences,’ I always counter to his argument, ‘and anyway, you hate people…’

 

‘But we wouldn’t know what we’d missed if we’d remained in the same house for twenty years,’ he retaliated, the finger of blame pointed squarely at me.

 

Yawn…

 

Of course, there is hyperbole in my re-enactment of these discussions, because I’m certain that we are as fundamentally happy with our lot as the next middle-aged couple prone to whinging at this final stage of our quest for happiness in our lives. The influence of alcohol has a lot to answer for, because it increases this scourge of self-pity about our first world problems.

 

Which is probably why old people stop drinking.

 

And inevitably, I always come to the same conclusion that we are nothing more than spoilt, glass-half-empty, over-thinkers who will find something to moan about no matter how close we are to our neighbours and what decisions we make. That even though both of us are aware of the irrelevance of regrets, the ‘what if’ need to seek perfection culture  is something we share along with anxiety, and it can be hard to control as age and fear of death creeps up on us.

 

I’ve spoken many times before on this blog of the blight of migrant homesickness that can infuse our happiness as we age. Yet we made the choice to leave our motherland. Pity the other migrants, the Asylum seekers and refugees who switched countries for reasons of safety or even survival.

 

So ours must simply be a mild case of middle-class internal dissatisfaction that has emanated from ‘making our bed’ and questioning now why it isn’t completely perfect; an issue that has recently become more sensitive as we watch world borders being strengthened in the wake of the potential increase in fascism, and since NC broached the delicate topic of leaving Australia to go back to the UK to work. Needless to say, my anxiety has flipped into overdrive as I consider all the potential implications of both kids leaving us, being forced to raise grandchildren without us, and having to wipe my own bum in old age.

 

In reality, I know that many parents all over the world are deserted by their adult children and that it is nothing we’ve done wrong; rather, we should see this as a parental success. And it can be advantageous for the economic stability of backpackers-Central such as Earls Court in London, that would never have survived without its influx of Antipodeans. I know this, because I help those very same ambitious millennials on the ground here in Sydney, the fresh batches of twenty-somethings driven by opportunity, the promise of success, who each have a hunger for new experiences and the adventures they know they must enjoy before they have toddlers yapping at their heels.

 

I don’t doubt that there are friends of mine in the UK who sometimes sit in their kitchen and regret that they didn’t do more, didn’t travel more, or didn’t live in another country like we have; while I sit on my deck swatting flies and thinking melancholically about frost and The Sunday Times.

 

I do miss aspects of the community we gave up, yet I refuse to negate the opportunities and experiences that we’ve taken advantage of due to improved travel and communication technology. It’s not all bad. Many have been amazing experiences. No-one’s life is perfect and perhaps my infatuation with FB exacerbates the feeling of homesickness over what I’ve gained. Had we remained in England, I suspect that we would have still been nomads, just chilly ones.

Australian Survives Horror Jelly Fish Attack In Italy

One of the gnawing fears you have when you make the decision to migrate to another country is that your children may respond to the beckoning call of the homeland once they are old enough to decide where they want to live. jellyfish-257860_1280 (1)

 

That worry has been brought home to me over the past few weeks since NC, (like most Australian twenty-somethings), donned her backpack and popped over to Europe to ‘find herself’ with friends. I worried that the minute she caught up with her “roots” and felt that tug of familial love that still pulls at me from time to time when I return home, her foundations in Australia might begin to shake.

 

A message from her this morning managed to assuage my concerns, however, for it turns out that NC is probably the only person in Europe to be stung by a jellyfish.

 

Let’s not forget that our girl has lived in, nay survived in Australia – most famously recognised as the land That Time Forgot that houses ten of the most deadly animals – for eleven years with nothing more than a mosquito bite, and yet a dip in the Ligurian Sea has forced her to compete with Blake Lively in The Shallows for the most scary water fight of her life.

 

I can’t say that actually living in Australia eradicates its reputation for the certainty of death around every corner, and I have to be very careful about what I say in my job when I introduce new migrants to our land.

 

I try not to mention the spiders, for example, because although everyone has heard of Sydney’s deadly Funnel Web, (which leaves you around thirty minutes to get the anti-venom or you’re fucked), no-one tells you about their more common, larger and uglier sisters, the Huntsmen, which are much more common than we’d like them to be.

 

I haven’t been lucky enough to encounter a Funnel Web yet, and I know many Australians who haven’t either, because in general they tend to stay outside, in the ground or under rocks, providing another excuse for never gardening…Ever! 

 

Australians have a very different attitude to wildlife than us pathetic Poms, I should add, which means that if you want to be accepted here you have to toughen up. In Australia, it’s commonly accepted that if it doesn’t kill you, it’s alright.

 

What they can’t downgrade about their problematic wildlife is that a lot of them do.

 

When I first walked down the steps off the plane at Sydney airport a decade ago, I admit that I was expecting a Sharknado, spiders to drop from the trees and snakes to slither through the cracks of my hotel windows.

 

But it’s really not that bad…if you live in an apartment in the city.

 

Cockroaches – and they’re big fuckers – are as much a part of life as rats are to London, but you DO get used to them – honest! The Princess uses them as dental floss and I love that satisfying crack as she halves them like a walnut.

 

While the Huntsman, (with its legs even hairier than mine in winter), has frightened the living crap out of me several times, demonstrating a rather unimpressive quality to my personality on more than one occasion, Australians see them as a wonder of the planet because they consume the mosquitoes. I have many crazy friends who leave them in their bedrooms on patrol. I’ve also met several who have had them drop out from behind the visor in their car whilst they were driving and nearly died. huntsman-spider-1234030_1280

 

It’s all just another magical part of living in this glorious country.

 

Usually competent in the water (if you ignore the last Olympics), we can certainly compete on the jellyfish front as well, with the world’s deadliest up north in the form of the Box jellyfish. I was surprised when I was there when I didn’t see people swimming in the sea out of stinger season, having presumed it to be safe, only to be put right by a local who admitted that they never swim in the water at any time of the year – they leave that to the tourists.

 

As was proven by the poor British woman who recently lost her life to a crocodile in Northern Queensland. Stories like that produce a shake of the head and silent ‘fucking idiot’ condemnation from the average Australian because EVERYONE knows that you don’t swim in croc-infested water…and especially not at night.

 

I wonder if everyone in Cinque Terre knew about that one jellyfish in the water or if it was another case of my daughter’s Bridget Jones-esque attraction to bad luck when travelling?

The Concept Of ‘Home’, And Moving On Versus Staying Put

I popped back to the suburb we used to live in up until a couple of years ago, last Monday, to catch up with a friend. Whenever I go back there, (and it’s often, as most of our close friends still live there), I experience those same feelings of self-doubt that I feel when I return to the UK. Those soul-destroying questions of ‘did I make the right decision to move?’ or ‘would things be different if I’d stayed?’ continue to haunt me.

 

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Anxiety at its finest.

 

There’s no doubt that the older you get, and the older your parents get, the more you question your decision to move away from your history and the family hearth.

 

People always ask us if we believe we’ve made the right decision each time we’ve moved. I think they put us on the spot because they need their own justification for staying put; to make sure they’re not missing out. We all try to paint the best picture of our lives, and I don’t think that habit has anything to do with Facebook one-upmanship, but rather the need to reassure ourselves by constant re-evaluation. The ex-pat’s worst nightmare is that question of ‘and where is home for you now?’, because it hits a raw nerve that is difficult to explain, but one that you can guarantee will cruelly transport you back to the best memories of the places you’ve left behind.

 

But the reality – and one which people with defiantly long roots will never admit to – is that ‘home’ has nothing really to do with where you grew up. You create your ‘home’, whether that’s with family or close friends. It’s a cliché, but it really is ‘where the heart is’, and nothing to do with which was the nicest suburb or the best bunch of friends – because I can assure you, there are great people everywhere.

 

‘Home’ to me is about where my immediate family is, but in terms of location, that place could be anywhere on the map that provides me with the energy I need at a particular time of my life. Not that I’ve ever been, or ever will be one of those nomadic traveller types that can fill my back pack and leave on a whim – not when I have anxiety, children, a dog, a husband that accepts being the object of my online ridicule and my unadulterated passion for Marmite.

 

I meet lots of ex-pats in my day job, who worry about the effect moving constantly around the world will have on their kids in the future, and it’s something I’ve often worried about in relation to my own offspring. Some of my friends were once kids of ex-pats and while many of them have inherited their parents’ itchy feet, others will never move and do everything in their power to  instil a sense of security they never felt as a child. I like to kid myself that our itchy feet have made our two more confident and independent adults, having forced them to constantly re-adapt, but with two naturally introverted kids (according to Myer Briggs), I might be kidding myself.

 

What for one person can seem like an exciting challenge, for the next is a trial.

 

They are old enough now to make their own decisions about where they decide to live, but if ever they had said to me, ‘we don’t want to move again’, I like to believe that I would have put my own aspirations aside; because without them, there is no ‘home’.

 

What do you think? Is it a good idea to constantly stretch and challenge yourself by setting new goals, experiencing new things, travelling beyond your comfort zone, or does it give you a greater sense of belonging and security to stay put, create more solid foundations and grow deeper roots?

 

Proud To Call Australia Home

In the build up to Australia Day, I’ve read many articles in the press that question what the real Australia is like now, and what it means to be an Australian.   Proud To Call Australia Home   This year marks our tenth anniversary in Australia, and being Poms, (although not sent here as punishment, but out of choice), we are continually asked what pushed us to come here.

Which I find quite hard to explain.

You see, we were far from unhappy in the UK when we made, (what was for us), an uncommonly impulsive decision.

The decision stemmed in part from the old man’s first midlife crisis, then there was the habitual problem of my itchy feet and just a mutual feeling that in spite of reaching a comfortable stage of security in our life, we didn’t feel we had challenged ourselves enough.   We weren’t naïve enough to think the grass would be any greener on the other side of the world. By the respective ages of forty, we had acquired some wisdom – although it would be a barefaced lie to say that the Australian climate held no appeal.

I had always suspected that I had SAD issues.

But we left good friends and family behind, which is never an easy choice, uprooted our children at an impressionable age, and without the security of new jobs to slot into, we had no possible idea if this crazy decision of ours would work out.

We can always come back, we secretly justified to ourselves, while to the rest of the world we attempted to show the outer confidence of born adventurers.

Fortunately for us, we have never regretted that decision, but with hindsight I realize now that going back wouldn’t have been quite as easy as I thought at the time. And the danger of itchy feet is that they can create the next generation of transient people and I’m pretty certain that if I’d moved our children across the world a second time, my old friend ‘parental guilt’ would have taken even stronger root .

As my readers will be aware, I see my life in ‘moments’. There are great moments and there are moments in your life you need to move on from with lightening speed. I have experienced many significant moments in Australia, but in particular, many of the simpler ones – which are always the best.

The ocean has contributed to many of those moments, even though (and the old man will vouch for this) a chlorinated pool holds much more appeal for me these days. Unspoiled beaches, basking in cool water on a 40 degree New Years Day on Paradise Beach, snorkelling on the reef, fireworks in front of the Harbour Bridge, or simply watching the sun set over the ocean are memories I will always treasure. And then there’s the food… In Australia, I can work hard all week – (and it’s a myth that the working life is easier) – and be in Paradise for the weekend.

There is a simplicity of life here and the general happiness and ease of the people is hard to resist. Perhaps borne from the climate, the outdoor lifestyle is very important to Australians and although there are wealthy pockets of Sydney which offer seriously fuck-off houses and elite schooling, the weekend boils down to which beach, how good the surf is and who’s manning the barbeque for most people.

In my experience, success is judged by your lifestyle and you don’t have to earn a lot of money to create an enviable lifestyle.

But, inevitably, you can never eradicate your roots (and nor would you want to), cultural expectations and history and there are qualities of the UK that I will always miss, aside from the obvious like friends and family.

‘Humour’ is the most obvious.

I have met people here who have made me belly-laugh, but it takes more trial and error to find that special, innate connection – probably because it emanates from culture and history – although I could equally contribute the intolerance that comes with ageing to my lack of success, too.

I miss my history and being able to share it with my kids.

And then there’s the distance – being so bloody far away from the rest of the world (and let’s not even mention not having Europe on my doorstep) creates a sense of insularism. If you relied on Australian television, you might never know that anything ever happened in other parts of the world.

But how I would miss the sight of those semi-clad surfers that used to wander down my street, or being able to swim outside almost all year around, or the opportunity of meeting such a diverse, multi-cultured array of people, (many of whom have shared our migration journey and willingly share their beliefs, cuisine and hospitality with us), and the lack of a true class structure.

For the moment, I am proud to call Australia home.