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Being Home

I just came back from another trip home. It was short, but it
felt good. Too good.
It’s funny how all the academic conversations I have
about where or what home is and what it feels like to be there can suddenly
crystallize in a single moment (well, more like a few very distinct moments). It’s
during those moments that the idea of home becomes clear in my mind. It’s nothing
that I don’t already know, of course, but time and distance tend to make such
ideas blurry and abstract and it’s nice to get the occasional confirmation.
I immediately know I’m at home because of how I feel the
minute I land. It’s an emotional reaction that I don’t get when I touch
down anywhere else in the world, including my current place of residence. Maybe
it’s the color of the sea or the dryness of the landscape I grew up in; the joy of hearing my
native language; the way people around me interact; or maybe it’s all of the above. I can’t put my
finger on it, but I know I’m home. I am welcome here. I belong.
The first thing that became clear to me this time,
once again, is that part of feeling at home is the fact that I “get” the people:
I can connect to they way they think, feel, function and interact; I don’t have
to think (much) before I talk or act – at least I don’t have to sensor myself or
worry about being misunderstood.
We took public transport a lot because my son is – how
should I put it – a lover of the public transportation system. He loves
going on bus rides, subway rides, tram rides, you name it – just for the fun of
it. Destination is a minor detail. So on our second day in Athens we decide to
go to the movies – not to a theatre near my family home, but to one at the
other end of town, just so that we can go there by public transport. As soon as
we enter the subway, two young girls, who were seated, immediately stand up so
that my children can sit down. I am positively surprised. Then the elderly lady
who is sitting next to my son suggests that she moves over a bit so that I can
squeeze in between her and him (three of us on two seats – obviously she does
not have personal space issues) and be closer to my kids. I
politely decline, even though she keeps insisting for a while.
I forget how how friendly people are here, especially
to children. We go on a bus and people just start talking to us. Two older
ladies address my children by their first names (they’ve heard us talking to them a few minutes earlier). They tell them to be careful and to hold on to the
handles and one of them shares her  personal story of how once she was on the
bus and fell and went to hospital etc. etc. Then they go on talking to each
other – two complete strangers. What normally bothers me when I’m in Vienna –
people giving my children or me unsolicited advice – I find pleasant here.

It’s also amusing to notice again how football (soccer)
teams are a big deal in Greece. My son happens to be wearing the “right” Greek football
team jersey that day (for the parts of the city that we visit), which makes him
popular with most people we meet – he gets a lot of comments and questions
about his football skills.
When I’m in Greece, I enjoy striking up conversations with
people I don’t know – in shops, cafes, on the street. I think it’s partly
because I know I can’t do that where I currently live. My husband correctly
reminds me that my fellow country people are not always as nice and polite; that
there are many instances when I am outraged at those same people – like when I
drive my car and nobody lets me pass at an intersection; or when people cut into
my lane right in front of me without warning; or, the worst of all, when they
don’t respect pedestrian crossings. He also mentions that he, as a foreigner, does
not always get the same treatment as I do, which is true – and regrettable. I’m
not blue-eyed; of course he’s right. But it does not change the fact that during
those few moments I just described, I feel completely at home; and it becomes
clear why I feel that way here and not in other places.

So this is one aspect of home for me: it’s all the
little things I miss but can’t quite define, until I come across them once
again. The sense of belonging; fitting in; understanding and feeling the other
person. It’s the sting in my heart every time my plane takes off from
Athens airport. In those moments of realization, I am home.
What is home for you?

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    So Athens airport is for you what the highway of tears (highway between Trieste and the Austrian border) is for me and my kids? when we drive on that highway driving back to NL and all 3 are in tears?
    What is home for me?…I'll have to think about it…I know I have many homes: also when I go to Helsinki I feel a bit of my heart is there too…meaning fro me it's also home…
    Ciao Bella!!!
    Aglaia

  2. Anonymous

    Now I would say home is where my family is (read: husband and kids) but where will be home once kids have left home?
    Having lived abroad most of my life, feeling a froeigner has very much become an essential part of my identity. I remember telling once a Dutch friend that I will stay in the Netherlands a slong as I feel a foreigner. When I'll start feeling at home, it'll be time to move on…and well, thanks to geert Wilders and other public figures, I think the Netherlands will allow me to feel foreign for a long long time to come…;-)
    Ciao
    Aglaia

  3. Anonymous

    I have the exact same feelings when I go home to visit family in the US – the sense of familiarity upon landing, the ease of conversing with strangers, the friendliness of strangers around me, how easy it is to find what I am looking for in shops and the helpfulness of those working there, …. The mind set of people seems to be much different and this ease of daily "friendliness and comradery" is something I have almost never felt in Vienna. It seems, in my opinion, people here are protecting themselves from each other although they seem to not hesitate in handing out "negative" commenting to those around them. Interestingly enough the public transportation stops in Vienna and some radio commercials are courrently reminding people to be friendly and respectful to each other. Hmmmh! emily

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