Those who don’t move won’t notice the chains
That’s a quotation by Rosa Luxemburg. It gets really deep when it’s applied to spiritual issues. I thought about it from another point of view, though. Since I’m an expat, I read a lot of expat blogs. They’re all very different and that’s what makes them interesting — none of us has made an identical journey. What separates myself from all the others most of all, is that I was older when I moved, I don’t have children and I don’t work! The latter I think is the most important difference.
The feelings most similar are all the eye-openers plus the fact that we can never really ‘go home’ — what used to be ‘home’ isn’t the same anymore.
Today I turn sixty years old, and I’ve been away for eleven years. When I moved, people kept telling me how brave I was. I didn’t feel brave — I just did it because I wanted to. It took a long time before I fully realized what a leap of faith it really was. Another thing that took a long time to appear was ‘homesickness’ … probably a couple of years. I remember when it first happened. The King and Queen were visiting Quebec City, the Swedish flag was flying on the parliament building and then this strange little feeling kept popping up in my chest … a feeling I wasn’t familiar with — all of a sudden I felt very Swedish. Homesickness has become a word very hard to explain — it certainly isn’t just longing for some people or a special kind of sausage! It’s not something I suffer from, but every now and then it pops up. Usually triggered by music.
The eye-openers have mainly been on a kind of political level — not just the fact that washing machines work differently and that there’s only one sink in the kitchen 🙂 They’ve been more subtle than that. Not only differences between Sweden and Canada, but also differences between Canada and the US. The, perhaps, most interesting part, was I became aware of the fact I’d lived a very sheltered life. A tight-meshed social security net — a feeling there’s always someone there to take care of you, should things go wrong. Security from the cradle to the grave! There, you couldn’t lose your job from one day to the other, for example, unless you did something outright criminal. I won’t go into the particulars — I’ll just say you have to get out of the country to see all these things.
A huge difference for me was of course I spent the first five years in Quebec, where the language was French. I spoke English as my second language, thought I had a pretty good command of it. To find myself in a minority situation felt … strange, to say the least. Coming from Sweden, where speaking good English is almost an obsession, this was big! Of course I’d been forewarned, numerous times, but it never sank in. This is another example of how you have to get out of the country to see things … took me a long time before I’d penetrated the language issues there and understood not even the young people spoke English. You weren’t considered “cool“, like in Sweden, if you spoke English with an American accent!
As an expat you’ll always compare. Some things were better back home, others are better here. In a way I was lucky, moving from a culture with very few differences. They’re are easier to count than the similarities, although it can also be deceiving. On the surface all looks the same just because we all wear blue jeans and listen to rock music 🙂 It’s made me appreciative of all the refugees coming from entirely different cultures, their efforts trying to learn a new language and often even script … assimilate in a brand new society.
Were I to go back and live in Sweden now, I won’t be the same as when I left, and Sweden won’t be the same either. Life goes on, on both continents, nothing is static and that’s what I meant by ‘you can never go home’ because ‘home’ as such, isn’t there anymore. Thankfully, I’m aware of that and also … if or when I go back, I’ll miss Saint John like crazy. It’s a good thing knowing that, because it makes me more ‘aware of the present’ … I think of it often, in all kinds of seemingly insignificant situations. Especially out in the shopping malls or downtown … smiling at strangers, saying hi to people you don’t know … the store clerk or bus driver calling me ‘hun’ … a man holding up the door for me and I don’t find it offensive. The list could be made much longer and I haven’t even mentioned the ocean. At least I’ve made a point of living in the present … to be alive here and now, to be steeped in the moment. Having said all that, the music above reminds me that I’ll always be Swedish … shackled to the ‘mood’ I have a hard time describing but which you can sense in that song.