No place like a home

My mother, originally a Brit who came to America as a war bride after WW II, and Jiab would often compare experiences as immigrants. In my rare position as a silent listener, I was always taken by their shared struggle to define what for me and most Americans was a simple concept…defining what was “home.”

They never fully felt acclimated or seen as fully integrated into American society, and yet when they traveled to their birth country, they realized they had evolved into people not fully in sync with their original culture. They traveled along a river with each foot on a separate boat, having to lean on one sometimes more than the other, but never with solid balance or comfort that the boats will travel in tandem.

We came back to Dallas for the first time in many months, and now after living in Granada for nine months. Dallas was Jiab’s adopted home for 25 years, and mine (except for one nine-year stint) for my whole life. At least for me, there was no confusion about “home” or native culture, till now.

From Familiar to Foreign

Jiab and I have worked hard to acculturate to Granada, and as we have recounted, it hasn’t been easy. We still have a long way to go. Not just the language, but we forget sometimes little presumptions, like that a store we need to visit will be closed in the afternoon break time), or that people often don’t want to waste time with idle chit chat and would prefer to be straightforward, directness and loudness not being associated with rudeness. It’s clear we stick out, made evident by even strangers beginning a conversation with us in English, as they can see at first look we are not part of the native population. Jim Wasserman, Jiab Wasserman
We do tend to stand out in places

So, when we came back to Dallas, we assumed it would be a bit of a comfort slide back into the cruising lane we were used to, except we found many of our ways of being had changed.

We realized on the first day we needed groceries, and so while we first thought to do our now-usual stroll to the neighborhood market, we realized there was not a grocer in walking distance. In fact, as we put together our to do list, we realized that a car was not helpful, but a necessity again. This struck us as odd, and as we drove around, we lamented how much time we seemed to be wasting just getting to all the places that now seemed so spread out.

Even in the store, I found myself having a different attitude. I was frustrated at not being able to find an electronic part I needed, but even more annoying was the happy best friend attitude the salesclerk had even while they were telling me they didn’t have what I wanted but for three times more I could get a better replacement. In Spain, a “Do you have question…?” would be negated by a simple “No,” allowing me to bid them adios quickly and find a store that did have it.

At home, our old Townhome seemed odd. Returning to our 2100 square foot residence after living in an 850 square foot (but ample) apartment, I realized I mainly kept to one general family room by day and one bedroom at night, why were we paying (and air conditioning) such a mass of mostly unused air pockets within our walls.

I also discovered a surprising change in myself. I was a political news junkie, both out of personal interest and professional necessity, teaching government for over twenty years.  I began every morning by massive consumption of several news sites, railing against political positions or copying articles to use in class. I always stayed on top of every election, not only for class, but because I feel it is a duty to be an informed citizen.

My world is different now. I live seven hours ahead of Dallas on the other side of the Atlantic. By the time  American news gets to me, it is stripped of the instant “end of America” outrage, “end of the world hyperbole” that American stations report with, and it has to take its place in relative importance to other world news (the rest of the world considers genocide more newsworthy than what a teenager wore to school that got her suspended for the day). Now re-exposed to the raw, “You won’t BELIEVE what they did” shouting back and forth, I just had little patience or stomach for it. It seemed trivial at best, self-destructive at worst.

Familiar comforts

Was there joy in our return? Of course, and we found it in three areas:

Food – We all have our comfort food, but for most Texans it comes down to one of two: TexMex or BBQ. I had both while here, but my go-to is always TexMex. I love Spanish food with its Mediterranean flavor and healthy living quality, but Spaniards don’t know from picante (spicy). Jiab even gave me a pass in sticking with a healthy diet for our time here.

Fun – Granada is a wealth of natural opportunities for hiking, but its city supported athletic facilities can’t compare with the public facilities in Dallas, and by that I mean tennis courts. When we lived here, we took advantage of low fee, well maintained courts, and while back we (especially Jiab) indulged again every chance we could. Spain (despite Rafa Nadal) leaves exercise to one’s own devices mostly; if I could pack a tennis court in my suitcase, I would have.

Friends – The trick here was to notify all the people we could BEFORE we came in that would be here and then narrowing them down to a slotted day to see them. Jiab and I even coordinated our friend schedule (being down to one car) so we could alternate days.

In general, we found that the personal moments and reconnections were great, if too short. Interacting with the greater flow of society, however, proved, well, off-putting, especially for me. I had always grown up taking for granted a feeling of “belonging” somewhere, and now I had two residences but was not sure I fully “belonged” in either.

A stranger in two strange lands

Leaving Dallas to head back to Granada, I was only sure of one thing: I was going to remove the word “home” (in the big sense) from my vocabulary until I can more clearly define it.

5 thoughts on “No place like a home”

  1. This article really stuck a note with me – I immigrated to the US from India as a college student, became a citizen, married an American, moved back to India for 13 years and then migrated back to the US 5 years ago. Even when I was a kid I grew up in Bengal, which is pretty distinct and far removed from the Punjabi ethnicity from Delhi that my family always considered ‘home’.
    The concept of home has changed so many times for me that I essentially boil it down to three concepts – emotionally, home is where my family is and geographically it is a combination of Gurgaon (near Delhi) where a lot of my Indian family and friends are based and the North East of the US where I have lived.

    I loved reading about how your perception of American behavior has changed after living in Europe. When I first came to the US, I was blow away by how friendly everyone was – complete strangers smiling at me and asking how I was doing. Then it got a little tiresome when I realized they didn’t really want to know that much about me beyond my view on the weather or last night’s football game. Then when I moved back to India, I wished Indians were a little more courteous, even if superficially, to people around them in public. Now I’m back in the US again and I sometime feel the superficial friendliness with strangers is sometimes comforting, but gets in the way of easily creating meaningful connections.

    • Ruchir, Thank you for your comment. Believe me, going between two countries is often like going between very hot and very cold water. You just want a nice warm mix, not the extremes! We are told we say “please” and “thank you” too much for Spain (and that it identifies us as American). I’m not ready to give that part up yet, but I feel the pull from Spanish culture.

  2. Thanks for the insight . Linda and I are contemplating mirroring your journey . Spain for 3 to 6 months is our goal ( we have already done the 1 month trip ). I look forward to no-car living , corner grocery , sidewalk restaurants , 700+ year old architecture , and train travel . I will miss my dogs ! May need to rent one ? Jerry Johnson

  3. What’s funny to me is that every time one gets a new “perspective”, they keep thinking that somehow it’s better than the last. In the end, it’s just a big coping mechanism game our brain plays on us to accept our current reality.

    • Phil, you are right. Even as I wrote it, I wondered how much of my disconcert was perhaps a subconscious pushing away from Dallas. When I taught high school, we would always see the seniors becoming negative towards everything about the school about January, and we recognized it was a safety mechanism as they realized they were leaving. By April, they had accepted their leaving and were openly appreciative of everything about the school.


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