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?
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.