Just realized I never linked up last week's Bonjour Paris post, There's no place like home.
With the holidays just behind us, many of us (myself included) made a trip back home to be with our loved ones. Most of us think of home as the place where we grew up (our “home town”), or the house we grew up in, or wherever our parents live. But for those who live abroad, the concept of “home” takes on a whole new meaning.
There are two kinds of expatriates: the temporary kind, and the permanent kind. The “temps” are those who go abroad for their jobs, or to spend a year or two having the experience of living in a place they’ve dreamed of for years. For the temp ex-pat, there is no question in their minds that after their job is over, or after they’ve “gotten it out of their systems”, they will return home again—happy to have had the experience but glad to get back to “normal”. For the temps, living abroad was never really meant to be “home”.
The permanent ex-pats have a much different take on things. They are embedded in their new country; they’ve made a life over there. They arrived at their state of permanent residency either by design or by default, but for one reason or another, they came, and then decided to STAY. For them, the place they are living now—be it Paris, Tokyo, Milan or Rio—is “home”.
In the not-so-distant past, people rarely traveled far from the place in which they were born. You grew up in a town, and married someone who also lived in that town or in a town very close by. You raised your family, and eventually died within a few miles of where you came into the world.
Advances in transportation and technology have meant that more and more people leave home and move far away. Sometimes they do so to advance their careers, to earn more money and create a better life; sometimes they do so to achieve freedoms not available in their country of origin. Sometimes they relocate for love; I’ve met several women who came to France because they met and fell in love with a Frenchman. And sometimes the “love” that makes us move abroad is the love of the place itself, nothing more. I place myself in that category.
As I was flying home the week before Christmas, I found myself thinking of my mother’s house, and the town where both she and my sister live, as “home”, despite the fact that I’ve lived in several other homes or towns in my adult life. I simply haven’t been living in Paris long enough for it to feel like home—yet.
But now that I’ve been “back home” for a couple of weeks, I’m already longing to go back to Paris. There’s something about it, something inexplicable that pulls me in and holds my affections. The light, the architecture, the energy, the very FEEL of the place… there is just something special about it. I felt at home there long before I ever set foot in the city for the first time.
Gertrude Stein, the quintessential American ex-pat in Paris, once said: “America is my country, but Paris is my home town”. (From 'An American and France,' 1936) I am looking forward to the day when I can claim the same sentiment. I’m already on my way.
America will always be my country, and “home” will continue to be where my family is, no matter where I’m actually living. But Paris is a place that holds a claim on my heart like no other.
And isn’t THAT the definition of “home”?