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Do you miss it? About homesickness

The most common question I get here in Holland when people hear I’m from America (which usually just takes a sentence or two of my American-accented Dutch), is “Do you miss it?”

I’m never sure how to answer that. There are certainly times I miss it, like when the weather has been gray and rainy for weeks on end.

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Or when I have to give a lecture in Dutch and spend three times as much time preparing it as if I could just speak English, and, even with all that preparation and practice, I still hear mangled Dutch emerging as I speak.

Or when a major appliance breaks down and I have to figure out a day, weeks from now, when I’ll be able to wait around from 12 to 5 for a repairman, since God forbid they should provide any service quickly or outside of business hours.

pretty Dutch houses at the Zuiderzeemuseum
pretty Dutch houses at the Zuiderzeemuseum

And I also miss some things in the US: proper New York bagels are high on the list. Shopping at Target and being able to buy basics like turtlenecks in colors that are not in style this year. Or quantity packs of underpants or socks. Or cinnamon chewing gum.

And I miss San Francisco sometimes: the beauty of that city, the neighborhood restaurants, the friendliness and diversity of its people. Earthquakes, though, I can do without.

But mostly my answer is “No, I don’t miss it. I like it here.”

Parentsick

I’ve talked about this question with lots of other expatriates, and I’ve come to the conclusion that many, perhaps most, other expats suffer more homesickness than I do because of one thing: their parents.

It comes down to this: people place their home where their parents are. Even if their parents have moved to Florida or a retirement home somewhere, they feel drawn back to see them. It’s not really homesickness, it’s parentsickness. It’s not about place, it’s about people.

So they visit. Most of my expatriate friends visit at least once a year, and, if their parents are nearer by – France or the UK, for example – they might visit four or five times a year. The last time I went back to the US was in 2009, and that was for a college reunion.

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The difference between me and them is that my parents have both passed away. Without parents to give a location to that homesickness, I don’t feel such a powerful pull as the others feel.

I have two sisters in the US, one of whom I’m close to, but we chat on Skype now and then, and we get together when we can, often with years between. I don’t miss her because if I want to see her I can set up a Skype chat.

But I doubt that would work if my parents were still alive. When they were living in Connecticut and I was in San Francisco, I visited them every couple of months, even though I could perfectly well talk with them on the phone. I did talk with them on the phone a couple of times per week, but something about parents makes their children want to visit them in person, to be in the same room with them.

I’m free of that pull now. I don’t feel particularly happy about that, but it does give my expatriate life a different feel than other expatriates describe. They sometimes feel burdened by it: it’s expensive to keep visiting, and there are so many other parts of the world they’d like to visit, yet they don’t feel that they have the choice.

My roots are moveable. My husband and I are planning to move away from Holland when he retires in ten years or so, but we won’t move back to the US. I suspect that when my children are grown and have set up their own homes, their homesickness will bring them to us, wherever we replant our roots, rather than back here, to this city. And that’s fine. I just hope it doesn’t become a burden on them.

If you’re an expatriate, let me know how you feel about this! Add a comment below.

12 Comments

  • Sue

    March 11, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Rachela, Good article. Last year I moved from WI to AZ within the US and for me that was huge. I had lived within 30 miles of where I was born all of my 51 years. The question you are asked, do you miss it, I have also heard over the last 8 months (yes, it hasn’t been even a year).

    My parents have been gone for almost 30 years for Dad and 40 years for Mom so even people that talk about ‘going home’ I’ve never experienced.

    The things I miss are the people, though most I keep up to date with, and certain type places that they don’t have here – coffee shops with good organic food and free wifi is top of my list.

    Thank you.

    Sue

    Reply
    • rachela

      March 12, 2013 at 8:26 am

      Hmmm, Sue, that sounds like an idea for a new venture! To me, from this distance, there just isn’t much difference between WI and AZ, except for landscape. Is the culture so different? What are people referring to when they ask you if you miss it? Anyway, thanks for posting!
      Rachel

      Reply
  • Shawn

    March 11, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    What you said is so true. We have moved around quite a bit in the US so I don’t know what it would be like oversees but I don’t go back to the places we lived unless there is family there. I am most homesick for the state I grew up in since it was so beautiful there but haven’t been back for over20 yrs. I go to where my mom is now.

    Reply
    • rachela

      March 12, 2013 at 8:29 am

      Shawn,
      Your mom moved, I presume? Florida? Where is home to you now: where you live, where you grew up, or where your mom is? Anyway, thanks for posting!
      Regards,
      Rachel

      Reply
  • Kate (@shoegirlinDE)

    March 12, 2013 at 10:46 am

    It’s funny, because even though my parents are still alive and I do miss them, I often feel a similar response. I don’t pine to be back there, I am where I want to be. The incredulous looks upon hearing this and where we’re from (also SF) are abundant: “Why would you leave CA and come to Germany by choice?!” But I’ve come to learn that it’s really all about perspective and what you want out of life.

    You tapped into an important part of homesickness, at least for me – the expense. The cost of getting all the way back to west coast is a big part of why we haven’t been back in nearly two years. Why spend an entire year’s worth of travel funds on one trip back when we could go on countless trips around Europe? Driving to Paris or Milan is the same as getting down to L.A. or San Diego used to be. Explaining this to the people you care about ‘back home’ is tricky though. It makes for a tough balance the further and further your life gets from the people and places where you started.

    Sure, there are things I miss, like Target and certain foods (oh, good burgers, Krispy Kreme and American pizza!) but we have fallen in love with our new home country and this is why we stay here. The longer we are away, the less of a pull I feel to go back.

    americaninwiesbaden.blogspot.com

    Reply
  • Mary

    March 14, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    I can absolutely relate to this! I’m an American expat hailing from NY currently living in Sardegna, Italy. I would do deplorable things for a NY egg everything bagel with cream cheese right now

    Reply

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