California Dreaming

I’ve been hanging out with various members of my family and friends in California for the past few weeks.  It’s been a bit wild to be home.

I seem to be going through some sort of weird “expat” transition, or perhaps I should say a transition to “expat”?  Of course, things are familiar here, a place I still refer to as home, but somehow also foreign.

If I had been living here for the past 5 to 10 years, it would all seem exactly the same, I am sure.  But the vineyards that have displaced more traditional agricultural crops along 101 are shocking to me, even though they probably were established several years ago.  The new housing developments, the expanded malls, the empty storefronts — everything seems a bit off somehow, familiarity heightened by unexpected changes.

What’s even stranger is missing the people I am here to see, even while I am with them.  I see how they have changed, and how I have changed — which is inevitable.  And I know that I will be leaving them again, which heightens my … what would you call it? Sentimentality? Homesickness?

I wonder if Matt went through this after he first moved to Switzerland.  I haven’t managed to ask him, as he has gone back to Sweden already, where it’s darker and darker every day.

But I had a long conversation with my friend Puck a few days ago when I dropped in on her and her family in their new house in Berkeley.  They moved recently from Switzerland, where they had lived for several years and where the kids were born.  But she too had longed to be home in California — she had been on the East Coast for a few years before making the jump to Europe, so this homecoming has been a decade in the making.

Sitting in her dining room in Berkeley, I suffered a jolt of “frenvy,” a term coined by a colleague of mine to describe “friendly envy” — I too would like to make the move to the Bay Area, to a house I could see staying in for a long time, close to my parents — and Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto!  (Cheeseboard pizza!  What could be better?)

And while she too is pretty happy to be home, Puck and I spent an evening over supper and morning caffeine (Thai food! it would be mediocre by Berkeley standards, but so good and *cheap* compared to Zurich), mulling over our experiences transitioning between cultures, listing what we miss about Switzerland and what’s so weird about being in the U.S.

I resonated with everything she described, in particular with the thrill of being able to banter with people at the store, to understand what they are saying and respond with humor in kind. We have both found ourselves striking up conversations with strangers just to enjoy that interaction — easeful, not fraught with language concerns or cultural faux pas, the grease that makes every day a little easier.

Puck is settling in at home for the long haul, but she is also searching for ways to stay connected with her time in Switzerland, and with that sense of otherness — whether that means meeting people who have moved to the U.S. from elsewhere, or continuing the Swiss tradition of taking their shoes off as soon as she and her family walk in the door.

I, of course, am heading back to Sweden soon.  I am interested to see if I feel like I am home once I get there.

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