The other day, a rather crisp and rainy one, I found myself skipping down the street with an umbrella aloft, a pashmina around my neck. As I waited at the traffic lights, I suddenly realised something. I was skipping. And, more notably, despite a well known pathological hatred of the rain, I wasn’t actually bothered by it. In fact, I was, on some level, enjoying it. In fact, enjoying both it, and the novel sensation of being perfectly suited and booted in order to be at one with it; an umbrella, suitable shoes and a scarf. I almost felt, dare I say it, cinematic. I certainly felt tres European.
I also felt a little click. That little jolt when something inside you moves slightly or morphs a little, in order to fit to its surrounding. That feeling of adjustment. Further adjustment, I should say, because adjustment is something that is ongoing, particularly when you’re in the practice of making new homes.
When you move to a different country, there is a small part of you that assumes, or at least hopes, that on some level, life will continue with a degree of normality – with the added excitement of it all being on the other side of the world. As much as you are there for the new experiences, for the thrill of change, oxymoronically, what you crave quite often, is stability. It’s human nature. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, the familiar is a balm. It makes it all a little less overwhelming.
And so begins a period of major adjustment as you start to create a new familiar. You start with the basics – a good local café and pub, a trustworthy hairdresser, favourite restaurant and a handle on the transport system. A job follows and usually with it a social network. Then the ante is upped. Christmas is the opposite of what you’re used to and minus the normal cast of characters. You put on weight as you get used to (or indulge in) the new food. The social rules are different and you unwittingly break several of them on a daily basis. But things are continually slotting into place. Life is stabilising. You are adding layers to your new familiar and bit by bit, adjusting to it.
Then the curveballs start – illness, heart break, loss. Held fast in the arms of your new stability, you’re as well poised to handle them as you’ll ever be. Time passes, more layers are added, and before you know it, you’re even more entrenched in your new familiar – it has all but replaced the old. You would, were you to leave it, miss it.
Bizarrely, around now, you’ll likely suffer a severe bout of homesickness. Don’t question it. Miss your mum, you deserve it.
The whole process can be, like squeezing into a pair of jeans after you’ve eaten your way through a European winter, quite uncomfortable. And slightly painful if the jeans are high waisted skinnies. It can also be hugely rewarding. Shaking things up, tipping the box upside down and pouring it all out, only to rebuild it in the midst of a foreign culture is why you’re doing it. It’s all part of the adventure. But the drive to do it doesn’t make it any less difficult.
I’m finding that adjustment seems to be an ongoing process. There are some things I took to like a duck to water, others I don’t think I’ll ever be okay with (snow, I’m looking at you). Clearly I took a while with the weather – Muenster (my abode in Germany) is rain central. It doesn’t just rain on a bad day, it rains everyday – and don’t get me started on the weight. That’s an adjustment I didn’t quite take to like a duck to water.
But I have a new familiar. I have stability.
So, time to move again, don’t you think?
First published as part of a travel column over at Australian Times. Read it HERE.