Homesickness in a Global World

We have now arrived in Toronto and are busy setting up our new house. Like any move, this one has had its share of surprises, including our air freight sitting in Germany for two weeks because the movers forgot about it. Flexibility is key, and a very long fuse… so far I have managed both quite well, and have just a few more days (hopefully!) until our big container arrives with the bulk of our things, including all the furniture.

As we have explored our new city and found our bearings, we have of course scoped out a few locations that make us feel happy and connected to “home”. That has become a relative term for me, as my upbringing was in the Pacific Northwest in the US but my adult life has been spent in Europe. I am a terrible foreigner, I pick and choose all the things I want to retain from my home culture, and I am equally selective about what I integrate from my host culture. I’m definitely not all-or-nothing when adapting, constantly seeking a balance between retaining my own identity – cultural and individual – and blending in with those around me. I never was very good at fitting into a group…

Despite my joy at being able to go out for pancakes for breakfast, great alternative rock on the radio, and the constant sightings of Lake Ontario as I meander through town, there are a few things that I already miss from Germany. I quickly found a German bakery and butcher shop, places I plan to visit and stock up on basics for the freezer about once a month. I am discovering major differences, yet again, in building styles between Germany and North America, and I miss the quality delivered by German Handwerker (tradesmen). Honestly, I’m not sure it’s matched anywhere in the world. My windows in our German house were state-of-the-art, and in our rental here, well, some are from the 60’s, some from the 90’s, and nothing comes anywhere close to even German windows from the same decades. Some things we’ll just have to accept and get used to, I guess, and this trend continues in many aspects: wood flooring, tile, doors, paint, … On the up side, we have Space. The kind of Space you just can’t get in the middle of Europe. And I am revelling in it.

In setting up our house, we had to make the obligatory trip to IKEA to stock up on some furniture (too much space!) Ahhhh, how wonderful it felt to walk into our nearest IKEA and be transported directly back to Germany. Global retailers make it so easy to combat homesickness! Previously this was only possible by visiting McDonald’s, or even before that: the Catholic Church. Funnily enough, one thing I like about the Catholics is that you can walk into a service anywhere in the world and be right at home, even if you don’t speak the language. And so it is with IKEA. And McDonald’s. And when these corporations exist all over the world, it changes the game in terms of integration, adaptation, homesickness, and culture shock. Of course we still experience all these things. But 13 years ago I couldn’t order still water in German restaurants. Today it’s standard, and Starbucks has popped up everywhere (although it’s debatable whether this is good or not!)

What happens to families like mine, who hop between countries and cultures so frequently? At some point, does culture shock stop? Does the pattern of culture shock just shorten, the euphoric and depressive stages happening more quickly and with less intensity? I don’t know. Who knows if we’ll be objective enough in our own experience to figure it out. But for now, I’m happy to be able to enjoy all the great things in Toronto and get my German fix regularly when I need it!

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