Like so many of you, we are moving on to a new country in a few months’ time. The hardest thing with any move is the people you have to leave behind. And, while my keyboard could do with clean, I don’t want to be washing it with tears. So this post is about the places rather than the people.
When you move to a new country, you embark on a relationship with that place. You may be moving already in a mindset to be seduced, anticipating the charms and the benefits of your new locale. Or you may be entering the relationship dragging your heels, having heard nothing but bad things.
Falling in love with a new country
I had a lot of misgivings about moving to Thailand, but Bangkok…you had me at Sawadee Ka. The food, the smiles, the chaos, the warmth – of both the people and the place. The ease of living that comes with being an expat in the Far East. The incredible beaches nearby. Never having to wear socks…
Germany was more of a slow burn, but now I will forever hold a candle for Wiesbaden. If Thailand was love at first sight (or rather sight, taste, smell, touch – to be in Bangkok is to have all your senses assailed at the same time) Germany was, well, ‘not so bad’ at first sight. But then I noticed that it was way better looking than I had first thought – seriously, this country is gorgeous. And behind the stern exterior was kindness. And despite initial impressions it wasn’t boring, after all – there was so much going on, you just needed to know where to look.
So I sit here now writing this in my lovely German garden, on this sunny spring morning. The beautiful magnolia tree has blossomed magnificently, and now the petals are falling to the ground. And next year I won’t be here to see it bloom. It is an odd feeling of displacement to miss a place while you are still living there. It feels like the end of an affair, one which I knew was going to have a time limit but, still, it’s painful to think of it being over. I am stuck in ‘this might be the last time’ mentality. The last time I see this tree in all its flowering glory. The last time we visit this park. The last time I get my favourite bread from the bakery…wait, no, I’ve become practically German in my routine of buying bread every single day so there’ll be plenty more bakery visits…
Finally feeling at home…and then having to leave
But it’s strange. I feel homesick for a place before I have even left it.
I remember having this same feeling in Bangkok. I was walking down our street and I had a sudden feeling of being right there, in the moment. That this was home. That I knew every street food vendor, every building. The frangipani trees, the jasmine. I knew which part of the street to cross because it smelled of the worst stinky drains ever. And which paving slabs to avoid stepping on – step on a wonky street slab and you risk getting smelly ‘pavement juice’ slopped up the back of your legs.
Getting to that point – of walking around and feeling like I belonged rather than having a panic attack – felt SO good. It’s not an easy place to arrive at…it takes time and effort and adjustment before a strange place starts to feel like home. And I’m at that point here now. First I got used to things and then I grew to love them. I love the fact that when I walk our dog it always takes me longer than planned because I stop and chat to the people I have got to know. (Chat in the loosest sense of the word given the extent – or lack of extent – of my German). I love the fact that the shops close on Sunday and people take the time to relax and enjoy themselves. I love the fact that when you go for a walk along the river you can stop every hundred metres or so and stop for a glass of wine. Which never costs more than 3 euros….
Moving from Bangkok – a huge, humid and hectic city – to the ordered calm of West Germany was a huge change. Our next move, to Paris, is ostensibly easier. The distance is less; the shipment will take days rather than months. But I often think the smaller cultural shifts can be harder to manage than the big ones. I’ve got used to the German way of doing things…and, while they may share the same continent and currency, the French certainly don’t share the same attitude.
But if these countries were actual people, who would they be? Bangkok would be someone crazy, funny, exhilarating and exhausting. Someone who would be so much fun to be around, but you would never be able to keep up with them, or pin them down. Germany would be one of those types in films…you know, the geek who takes off their glasses and suddenly you realise that they are really quite hot actually. They would also be very organised. But prone to stripping down just to their underpants in public parks whenever the mercury rises over 20 degrees. But Paris? What will Paris be like? All Breton tops and peeing in public? (Sorry, first impressions of Paris is that it really smells of wee…).
Moving on is hard
As the song goes, breaking up is never easy (gotta love Abba). You leave a place and you realise that it carries on without you…like a love sick teenager you find yourself on social media, looking at friends’ posts and seeing all the places that used to be ‘your’ places. And when you leave the tropics and move to a country with a long winter…well, it might not be bad advice to just stay off facebook altogether. There’s only so many pool and beach and rooftop bar pics you can take when the temperature doesn’t rise past zero and the sun never manages to penetrate the blanket of grey.
If it is not obvious by now, let me make my point even more melodramatically clear: my heart hurts at the thought of leaving this country. I am focussed on trying to enjoy everyday but, like the end of any romance, the enjoyment is tinged with sadness.
But I am aware of how lucky I am to have had these love affairs with different cities. Your heart may take some bruises when you move to a new country, but it is never made smaller.