People often ask “where are you from?” when they first meet someone. We like to know where people call home. Get some insight as to who they are, where they have been, why they are here today if it’s not “home”. It is a question I never quite know how to answer, and usually end up giving a people a small history background to my life…
Over the years, I’ve come to realise that home is far more complex than just being a place where you come from.
Is Home your Birthplace?
I was born in Versailles to a French dad and a British mum. I lived nearby until the age three. Unsurprisingly perhaps, I have very little memories of my time there. When asked where is home / where do I come from, I have never considered myself a Parisian, nor will I ever say “I am from Versailles”. I don’t feel this has any impact on who I am today.
Is Home where you spent your Childhood?
My family and I moved to Co.Cork in Ireland when I was three. I have some recollection of this, and remain in touch with friends made there at the time. I have very fond memories of Ireland, including getting a green bedroom at my request and going to a school with lots of big windows (the big window obsession lives on)! However, I lived there from the age of 3 until 6, so don’t remember it all that much if I’m honest. Living in Ireland helped me learn English from a very young age, but I have never considered myself from Ireland, and don’t remember calling it home.
We lived there for several years until we came back to France in time for me to start CP (primary school).
When my family and I returned to France, it wasn’t for the Parisian area, but for the Grésivaudan Valley, near Grenoble.
I was 6, and stayed there until the age of 18. I therefore spent all my primary school, college and lycée years there, growing from a little girl, going through my teenage years and becoming a young woman. When asked where I come from, I usually answer “Grenoble” in light of this.
Yet, when I went to university in the UK, I remember thinking how much I felt at home in the UK, despite having never lived there until that point.
My mother being British, from the North East of England, my siblings and I grew up in a multi cultural family. We spent many holidays in the UK, usually Christmas, at my grand-parents’ house in Peterlee. I remember those holidays fondly, watching Top of the Pops, eating all the English food we didn’t have in France back then as well as the Italian inspired dishes from my Maltese Grandma. I loved how the UK went all out for Christmas compared to France. Even the shops were different and I couldn’t wait to go to Tammy girl on my trips there!
We were lucky to attend the international school in Grenoble, where we made friends with other children with similar upbringings. So compared to our French friends in primary school, we never felt fully French. Many of our family habits involved a mix of British and French habits, with some made up along the way combining the two.
When I started university in Canterbury, I loved living in the UK from the minute my mum dropped me off on the campus. I remember feeling exhausted at first from having to speak English 24/7. I would randomly start speaking French to people at times, not even realising until someone told me. I would get my expresions muddled up (ok, that still happens on a regular basis!). So although I immediately felt at home in the UK, it was obvious to many that I hadn’t come from the UK.
For most of my time spent in the UK, between 2002 and 2018, I felt happy and at home there, and didn’t feel as though I wanted to go back home, back to France. I felt more at ease in the UK, I enjoyed the lack of formality that is found in France, I loved the houses there, and the people. I had completed my studies and spent most of my working life in Bristol. I also made the best friendships in my time there.
And then things changed. I am not sure what happened exactly. The children were still very little, but growing so quickly the way young children do. There was also the Brexit vote. The running around like a headless chicken between work, clubs, traffic, school… Despite Siena being 5, most of her friends parents were starting to worry about catchment areas for secondary schools. We were starting to feel we could use a slightly bigger house so the kids could have a bedroom each, but the prices for a 3 or 4 bedroom house in Bristol was getting absolutely ridiculous, and I kept thinking what we would be able to get for that price in France instead …
In August 2017, I spent a month of my parents with the kids, and started to picture myself living there. What I would do. How the kids would benefit from it. I also had a longing for them to become fully bilingual, and living the UK I had not managed to raise them bilingual. I wanted them to experience life in France, to grow up in the sun, spending all their time outdoors. I wanted them to make the most of their childhood years, and not grow up in a City where I didn’t feel it was safe for me to not watch their every move.
When I first mentioned this to Barry, I felt really nervous. Luckily, he was in agreement. Seven months later, we left Bristol and moved to France. Our eldest was 7 at the time, and found it really painful saying goodbye to her home, her school, her house. Our youngest, being 4 just went along with it all. Barry and I, although sad to leave behind our friends, left our beloved Bristol feeling excited about our new adventure.
Adjusting to Life in France
Which is why it came to such a shock that I was the one who took the longest to adapt to our new life in France. I had not anticipated that. I don’t think I had even given it any thought. Barry got on so well, adapting to our new home, garden and of course the French language. Once the kids had the language in hand they got on being kids, thriving with their new lifestyle. And then there was me.
I am not sure I am completely there yet either. I left France in 2002. When we first moved back 16 years later, people kept complimenting my French saying how good it was. I could hear my British accent when I spoke French, which was incredibly weird. Still to this day, when I get tired, I forget all my words and now English is the language I feel most confident in. Over the years, I have less people commenting on my French, and I think that the British accent has mostly disappeared as I speak my native tongue.
I found it difficult making friends. Mainly because once again: I do not feel like a true Brit amongst the British immigrants here. I am proud of being Bristish and French, so I get sad and dare I say it defensive, when I see all the Brits here who refuse to speak any French despite years of living here (as in they won’t even say “bonjour”, or will just speak English to the staff in shops…). Amongst the French, I don’t feel fully French either. In fact, recently I have been craving more Frenchness, despite having always felt more comfortable in the UK with British people than I ever did in France. To say I find this all confusing is a slight understartement!
My brain is now even more muddled when it now tries to answer the question “where do you come from?”, and I usually ends up in me giving people a small(ish) history lesson on my life and that of my family. And my family, well, they came from Italy, Scotland, UK, France…. some family members were born in the USA, Germany. Some emigrated to Argentina, Australia, Egypt, whether temporarily or permanently. So you can imagine how difficult I find it to provide a short answer to the question “where is your family from”…
My sister, who has also moved a lot and now lives in Australia told me she feels the same. Sometimes the answer she gives will change depending on who she is talking to.
Can we Have more than One Home?
Becky from Wild Oak Wood, told me : “I have two homes. London (the UK) will always be home for me. If we go back I say we’re going back ‘home’. France is my adopted home. When people ask where I’m from I say London (though they usually want me to go deeper and say where my parents are from because of my mixed heritage, but I identify with the place I was born and bred, not where my parents were raised.) It will be interesting to see what the kids identify as when they’re older“.
In his TED talk below, Pico Iyer talks about these children of the world, how growing up with such a multitude of cultures, with parents from different countries and backgrounds, different places they are familiar with, will create a whole new nation of its own so to speak.
I have called different places “home” in my lifetime to date. Grenoble is where I spent my childhood. Bristol is where I started trying to figure out I was, where I met my husband, had our children. And now France again, but in the South West. I’m having a hard time feeling this is truly home, and keep finding myself thinking of where be will my next home.
Pico Iyer also talks about this in his TED talk. He says that the problem with movement, is that it can be hard to get your bearings. This struck a cord with me. I find it very difficult to be still, in the moment. It also made me wonder why am I so focussed on trying to figure out where our next home will be, instead of making where we currently stand, home.
Is Home even a Place?
“Home has less to do with a piece of soil, it has more to do with a piece of soul”Pico Iyer, Ted Talk
Ultimately, I have realised that for me, home isn’t just the house I live in. Nor is it where I come from. I have come to understand that what makes me feel at home, depends on the people I am surrounded with. In the first six months we lived in France, we stayed in a total of three gites as well as my parents house. Whislt we longed to be able to move into our next house and make it our own, during this time, I felt at home. Being with Barry and the children, we embraced our adventure and even though it was stressful at times, it was also magical. Living out of suitcases during this time, with minimal belongings and being able to move around freely was liberating!
I also feel home with my family. Especially my siblings. Home will always involve them. From memories of us growing up together, to more recent memories of meeting each others babies and seeing ourselves grow into adulthood.
Home is also my friends. The ones who know and accept that I will be in my pyjamas when they come round, the ones who get that I don’t enjoy going out but would rather stay home with good food and boardgames. The ones I don’t see for years, yet when we get together we pick things off where left them.
Home is a Journey
Having given it some thought, I feel that Home to me, is an ongoing journey. Being home, includes allowing myself to be me. Being around loved ones. Allowing time for the things I enjoy (still very much a work in progress). Enjoying the small moments, whether it be sat watching a film with Hugo on a Sunday morning whilst the others sleep, singing incredibly out of tune in the car, loud and proud, to make Siena laugh, sitting on the bench facing the garden with Barry with a cuppa.
Admitedly, that doesn’t in any way help me in answering the question “where are you from”… But perhaps that doesn’t really matter anyway. The main thing being to embrace the journey, and to remember to stand still on a regular basis to breathe it all in.
how do you answer the question : where is home? Do you find it easy to answer? Or like me, is it not a straightforward answer?
Do you answer the same as your siblings? your parents?
I would love to hear from you, so let me know 🙂