When I was younger my mum used to despair because I would refer to everywhere as “home”.
If I was staying over at a friend’s for one night, it was “home”. When I went back to my parents’ house during university holidays, I was going “home”, but would simultaneously refer to my university town as “home”.
(EDIT: I’m being pretty generous here. I’m almost 28 and my mum still sniffles when I refer to anywhere other than her house as “home”. Sorry, mum.)
I can’t be sure, but I’d guess that most people with a travelling streak or disposition may be similar. I’m not going to go off on a tangent about being a citizen of the world, cause that’s really not my thing.
What I would say, though, is that the ability to feel comfortable and happy in a range of places – often unfamiliar ones – makes travelling a lot easier. It makes leaving a lot easier, too.
But there’s a difference between being happy and comfortable and feeling at home. What does it really mean to feel at home in a place?
Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to travel a lot. Being quite a fan of the written word, I’ve done a fair bit of writing on the subject as well. But while it’s easy to extol the wonders of a town, city or country, it’s not so easy to elaborate on the feeling you have there.
Why is it, for example, that Mexico continued to pull me back for several years, while Colombia – as much as I loved it and will continue to sing its praises – didn’t exert the same influence over me?
There was something about Mexico that made it feel more like home for me.
I could make a similar comparison between the US and Canada. I’ve had some incredible times in the US. Memphis, Tennessee, New Orleans: they’ll hold a place in my heart forever. Would I go back? For sure. Did they feel like home? Not so much.
But Canada. How many times have I found myself looking at working holiday visas? Why did I find myself, during my three weeks there, taking mental notes each time a non-Canadian started talking about their immigration experience?
Now for Barcelona. And I must say Barcelona and not Spain, because they really are not the same thing.
Do I love Barcelona? Of course. Falling in love with this place was easy. Falling in love with my boyfriend here was even easier.
But would I have come back if it wasn’t for him? That’s not such an easy question to answer.
While most days I feel almost overwhelmingly happy here, other days there’s something troubling me. The sad thing is, I don’t know whether that can ever change.
I can learn Spanish as hard as I can. Hopefully, one day, I’ll get to a level that I am happy with.
But am I ever going to learn Catalan? I doubt it. Am I ever going to be Catalan? Of course not. Am I ever going to be able to ignore the unpleasant glances, the rude and abrupt manner in which some people interact with you here? Who knows. I’m sure a less sensitive person would.
Some days there is a “tourist go home” type vibe you feel emanating from the city, as though it were a living and breathing thing. Some days, it’s not really so subtle.
This isn’t to say I blame people here for sometimes having that attitude. Barcelona is absolutely heaving some days, and even I (as a tourist) get frustrated by how many damn tourists there are here. Besides, us Brits are hardly known for our hospitality.
I’m nowhere near understanding the full history the divides Catalonia from other parts of Spain, so I’ll have to refrain from commenting on that.
Aside from that sometimes unpleasant vibe, there are other things that bother me here. Customs or language differences that feel alien, unnatural.
Does this mean it can’t feel like home? Most days it does feel like home. Like I said, I love Barcelona.
Other days, I find myself thinking of England as home.
And yet, when I did visit “home” – meaning my hometown and my parents – a few weeks ago, it didn’t really feel like home to me. It felt familiar, for sure. And it felt easy. Falling back into a normal routine, with good friends and family, well, that’s not such a bad thing.
But just because something’s familiar, it doesn’t mean it’s home. Likewise, just because something’s unfamiliar, it doesn’t mean it can’t be home.
For now, at least, I think I’ll stick around here.