Expatria: A long way from home

This morning I was perched on my therapist’s couch. He has been a kind and capable confidant of mine for a few years now, and he sees a lot of expats. 

The truth, Therapist!
“I’m wondering about the price we pay when we choose to leave our countries of origin,” I say. 

Studying his face, I notice he has that look that therapists get when they recognise some mess inside your head and are about to ask you a series of carefully-worded questions to get you to recognise it too. 

I want to know what he thinks, so I short circuit the process and ask: “Do we damage ourselves?”

He says some positive things in reply, but overall he’s clear that exile, expatriation, whatever you want to call it, takes its toll.

Piss-flaps no less a hero
People talk about living abroad with misty eyes, as though it’s some kind of heroic act. Hardly anyone ever talks about the life-price. 

Over-excited, recently-arrived social media darlings scamper through our feeds, gushing about how they sold everything and just moved – oh the courage of the wanderer! 

No-one ever praises those who stay – doesn’t it also take guts to grow in your home country, where people remember what a plonker you were as a teenager? No-one ever touches on the fact that maybe some expats have been running away all these years and are simply not brave enough to go home. 

Told in net friends totals
I’m not talking about a year abroad from university or a summer spent working here or there – that’s just a form of extended tourism – I’m talking about long-haul expats doing life without parole. As ‘Expat Instagram’ blasts hygge, minimalism, and Scandi-this and Scandi-that, cynical feelings twist like knives in the gut. 

It’s hard to hold onto a genuine attachment to more than a small number of friends long-distance and difficult to remain part of their lives. Although you might still get invited to the really big things, the flow of invitations to smaller events – the birthday parties, the new year brunch – dries up before you can say easyJet. 

The friendship group back home sees no new additions, only losses. The Copenhagen circle of friends is overwhelmingly international and regularly pruned back as people move on.

Home is where the …
Where it hurts most is with the very old and the very young. Little ones have short memories and change so very fast. With my older relatives, I can’t stop myself from doing the heartbreaking calculation of how many years they will likely live multiplied by how many times per year I visit. That is the number of times I will see them again. 

Visits back are increasingly alienating. Things have moved on, and so have I – the gap widening each year. Stifling as it might have been on occasion, home is now so far from my grasp that I can barely remember what that kind of comfort and belonging felt like. 

Denmark, no matter how settled I become, can’t give me that feeling. I don’t think I knew when I made the move all those years ago that home was the price I would pay.