Scribbler in Seville

The green, green grass of home

Some green grass in England. It's not all it's cracked up to be.

Anywhere you choose to live will have its good and bad points – too much traffic, limited shopping, rubbish public transport. When people ask me what I like about living in Seville, I say 1) the weather, 2) it’s a small, beautiful, historic city and easy to get around (OK, I don’t live in the city, but still relevant), and 3) cheap eating out.

I mention this because I made an extremely brief visit to the UK this weekend, for a party which was full of university friends from 20 years ago, so I was asked the question a number of times. As always, the experience of going back to my native land stirred up a potent brew of emotions, no doubt similar to that experienced by other expats on a visit “home” – yes, I still call it home, which is confusing in itself. Home should be where my family is, ie my children, which is Spain. I was delighted to see my friends, and renew old acquaintances from previous lives, but sad I get to see them so seldom. Thrilled to stay at my friend’s beautiful new house, but painfully aware of the gulf between her life and mine. Longing to stay for longer, enjoy her company more, but also missing my children horribly.

When I go back to the UK, be it for one night, or five weeks, I am always delighted to see British TV, cakes and English-language reading material – books, mags, newspapers. As a journo, that’s one of the biggest thrills for me, like setting a chocaholic loose in Green&Blacks.

But the other aspect of being back in England which I love, and the one which I find hardest to cope without, is the simple fact of being in a country where my language is spoken, there is so much unspoken cultural common ground, and I’m not looked upon as an interloper/outsider/freak. I can have a conversation without thinking or tripping over words, and the laughs come fast and easily.

After missing friends and family, that is the hardest aspect for me about leaving England after a visit. The repartee, the sense of humour, the shared experiences (although those are also one of the greatest bonding reasons with other women here – especially being a mother, and being married to a Spaniard – there’s a few more blog posts in that particular topic). It’s back to being the outsider at the school gates, the foreigner, the guiri. Most of the time I don’t mind – I’m used to it – but when I see English schools, I can’t help but think how much easier it would be to get to know other mums if I was in England.

When you’re just back to you adopted country, it’s easy to respond to any problematic or stressful situation by saying to yourself, “This would never happen back home!”, “Only in Spain!” or “Why am I here in this stupid country, where these things always go wrong?” you have to try to remind yourself that the situation could equally occur in the UK too. At least, that’s what I try to do.

I think my point is that however long you’ve been living away from home – in my case, nine years – it is still a wrench when you leave again after a visit. I wonder if it gets any easier for long-term expats?

Nothing like a nice cuppa to make everything seem better.

Mother's milk. Ice and a slice. Guaranteed to take the edge off homesickness.

I would love to know how you find returning to your adopted/expat country, from your home one? Is it difficult – if so, what do you find hardest about it? How do you cope? Cups of tea and British telly? Skyping friends and family? Facebook and email? Or large G&Ts? Tell me your secrets. Go on.

6 thoughts on “The green, green grass of home

  1. azahar

    I never felt like I was “home” until I moved to Spain. Sure there are problems, as you say, but there is nowhere else I would rather be. Though would be nice to visit London a bit more often for some decent Thai and Vietnamese food…

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      That’s such an interesting point of view – totally different to mine. You miss “home”, ie Seville, when you go somewhere else. It’s great to get another perspective. Thanks, Azahar.

  2. alien1okcular

    After 9 years I wonder. Now in my 15th year in our village in Turkey and in a couple of days I’ll be heading to UK for one of my very rare visits. My grandson has won a scholarship to Berkeley California and I want to see him before he goes. I find that I no longer have any affinity with the UK and it takes a strong reason to drag me there.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Family is my strongest reason (brother and parents), followed fairly closely by friends. They are an overwhelmingly powerful draw. I hope you enjoy your trip to the UK – you must be incredibly proud of your grandson.

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  4. Mooska

    Nope, totally with you here. Spain is definitely also ‘home’ after five years here, but England is home home, for want of a better phrase. I’m possibly unusual in that my husband is also English and we just moved here for the weather and lifestyle (cue inevitable astonishment from Sevillanos!). That really helps in some ways (having someone who understands and shares any feelings of alienation, being able to reference that shared culture on a daily basis), and obviously not in others (god, I envy my friends with Spanish partners who just *know* the things we have to painfully discover, like how you shouldn’t wait till April to apply for your child’s nursery place…).

    We have no intentions to move back; I’ve had a child here and we’ve another on the way, and we want to bring them up here. England, for all its dear familiarity and good points, is not headed in a good direction with the current government and the weather and lifestyle and work/life balance aren’t likely to change any time soon. That said, I miss it dreadfully at times, especially family and friends, and as you say, just being understood, and I need to get home at least a couple of times a year to recharge with a bit of pubbing, stodge, Sunday activity and green&pleasant countryside. Also, obviously, it is unthinkable that my children grow up without a working knowledge of Blackadder and sarcasm. 😀 …although I hope they’ll also have the gentleness and ability to express unabashed affection of Spanish children.

    I don’t find it hard to leave England and come back to Spain – we are always staying in other people’s spare rooms, for a start, so it’s just nice to get back to our own space! – but I definitely feel a huge lift when I get to Gatwick and see proper chocolate, giant lattes and signs of which I understand every word without thinking!

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