I was born in Paris, grew up in Toulouse, spent months in America, went to college in Normandy, gave birth to my son in the Corsican mountains and have been living in Nîmes for 10 years now. I’ve moved 12 times since the age of 18, and quickly felt at home in every single place I’ve lived in, but for many years have wondered “Do I belong here?”
For me, "ailleurs" is one of the most beautiful French words there is — while its direct English translation is "elsewhere" or "somewhere else", it also has connotations of something better and new horizons, and so for me, it has a touch of mystery, the thrill of the unknown and a very poetic sound. Like most expats and digital nomads I have always been drawn to "ailleurs"; I don’t necessarily think that the grass is always greener elsewhere, but I certainly know there is green-enough grass everywhere.
Travelling is a lot of fun but it’s rather like speed reading — the chances are that you’ll miss the essence, as it’s never in the obvious but rather in the tiny details. Leaving your home, your family and your culture is quite a stretch, y et always turns out to be a personal growth experience.
However it’s not a piece of cake 100% of t he time , though! Like when you feel brain-dead after a whole day of mentally translating everything, not just the words, but the cost of things in your home currency, the distances, the measurement of food ingredients... even your own weight can be unsettling when converting from kilos to pounds! And of course, since there is no going back to your home routine any time soon, every day is a new challenge, with lots of practical details that drive you nuts — and not to mention the bureaucracy!
So why do people do that to them selves? Well, everyone is different, but I have noticed a paradoxical pleasure in not fitting completely into a social circle — and that’s why, even in my own country, I like to be a round foreigners. I know they are likely to highlight cultural differences and make me see my reality through a new lens, which I find stimulating. To me, being elsewhere is a lifestyle, as much as a mindset.
Home is where the heart is
The thing is, regardless of how much anyone likes to experience living in different places, at some point they want to feel at home. But is home the place where your ancestors are buried, where most of your family lives , where you grew up, where you studied, where you created your own family, or where you currently live?
Finding a place where you belong is a heart thing, not a head thing. Home is where you feel safe, in an energetic communion with your surroundings. So, yes, there are homes away from home. And yes, your heart can be in two different places . In French though, there is a saying that goes "Qui a deux maisons perd la raison" (he who has two homes loses his mind), so how do you not lose it when moving far away from where you grew up?
A search for clarity is the most efficient solution. Most people will find the answer to where they belong by reviewing the pros and cons of their current living place, and comparing them to the criteria of their "ideal home". Some may not need to dig a little deeper, since the real question might not be where do I belong but what is my life purpose ?
A constant need to travel and move to new places could mean you’re trying to run away from yourself and will never be satisfied until you tackle the real issue, which is certainly not the need for sun, better food or cheap property prices. If you’re looking for serenity, that won’t happen "elsewhere", as singer Alice Merton aptly puts in her recent hit "No Roots" — "it’s just the place that changes, the rest remains the same."
After years of uncertainty and overthinking about belonging or not where I was, I realised that as a dreamer, I always feel home in my own head anyway — and as a reader and a film lover, I have plenty of opportunities to escape my reality for a few hours and dive into someone else’s.
Obviously, there is no such thing as a perfect place to live, so it is crucial to listen to your intuition. When you feel something’s off, it is. Perhaps your personal boundaries have been crossed, or you lost the sense of connectedness with your surroundings . If the excitement of living somewhere has gone and it’s turning into a dangerous self-doubting phase, the time has come to reconnect with yourself in order to regain balance between stability and change. No matter where we live, we belong with ourselves, grounded in our own lives.
We asked our readers how or when they felt they "belonged". Here are some of their responses...
I walk down the street, I say hello and people do the same, or they make small talk in the store or I do something for somebody that makes both them and me happy. It spreads like rings on water, and before you know it, you feel that you do belong. For me it is the attitude that you have that will make you a part of the place you live in. Wenche
A regular customer at my favourite café, I ordered the same ever y day. I was always met with a polite but formal smile, asked what I’d like and charged when it arrived. One day I was met not only with the polite smile, but also a warm handshake, asked how I was and told my order was on the way. There was no need to pay immediately, and instead of me fetching the communal newspaper when it was free, it was brought to me. To this day, I don’t know what prompted the change on that particular visit, but the friendly treatment has continued, and even some of the regulars now speak to me. I feel accepted, and now definitely feel that I belong here. Gavin
Saint-Geniès-de-Fontedit, a small village near Béziers, holds a special place in my heart. As children, my sister and I used to spend most of our school holidays there in the warm and homely cocoon of our grand-parents’ house. Running in the vineyards, eating juicy peaches or fresh almonds while observing cicadas remain wonderful memories that I cherish more than anything else. Carole
When my husband was very ill, he had daily visits from a nurse. I had forgotten to order his "supplies" from the pharmacy - it was Saturday and it closed at noon. I was working and could not go, so phoned the chemist and explained my problem... without hesitation or a prescription, he said he would prepare it and take it to my hairdresser who stayed open until 7pm, and to pay him whenever I could! Problems at work meant I could not get to the hairdresser, so she brought it to my office at 7.15pm. It was marked pour l’anglaise avec le sourire (for the smiling English lady). I felt very accepted by our village. Karen
Karine A. Galland www.le-coaching.com