‘Bricks and stones’, or ‘Love alone’?

What makes a place – a house, a city, a country – truly a home?

Somewhere among the bric-a-brac in your grandmother’s living room, chances are you can find crocheted wall-hangings with useful phrases neatly stitched in rows. Surely you’ve seen one that has some variation of this particular phrase:

A house is made of bricks and stones
A home is built with love alone

I’ve referenced this idea before, that we have a lot of phrases and sayings that sum up a warm fuzzy feeling about home. And even if you’re the type of person who sees this kind of thing as trite – and at times I am that person – it can still push a button in there somewhere. Maybe crocheted pillows don’t always give me that “Aww…” feeling (sorry Nan), but sayings like that do make me wonder what I need to make a home.

What makes the difference between the feeling of being home, and just being in a house?

True, patriot love?

My other half and I often get into wildly imaginative discussions about where we will settle down some day and raise wee little ones. Now, this is all very far off and we often let the conversation get insane because it’s so distant an idea that it often feels unreachable. It also doesn’t help that we both are pursuing careers that can be realized almost anywhere in the world, so the possibilities are not really narrowed down in that capacity.

So, that begs our first question – if you can live in a number of countries, what is it that makes a country feel like home? I suppose for a large number of people the country you are born in is automatically the country that feels the most like home. The idea here is that wherever you are born and raised is going to play a part in forming your identity, and so your country will become as much a part of you as you are of it. Maybe this is what patriotism is based on, too. Although, I should point out, I think patriotism is a very complicated feeling – especially if you come from a part of a country that feels separated from the rest of its people, whether it’s for physical, political, or historical reasons.

This is indeed a feeling that runs very deep in the veins of many people living in our province. But don’t think that we are the only ones who feel this way about our country. This is something I have bonded over with people in several countries. For example, it seemed like every other person I talked to in Spain had to explain to me they weren’t really Spanish because they were from this other part of the country that had a completely different culture/dialect/cuisine/history/political view. One evening I had a conversation with an old Spanish gentleman in a bar who, upon hearing I was Canadian, launched into his take on the Québec separatist movement. He tried to explain to me how he sympathized with such a dissonance because he was from Catalonia, not Spain, so knew how the Quebecois must feel.

Another motherland

So, if being from a country does not necessarily make it feel like home, what does that mean for those of us who immigrate?

Houses in Normandy, France.
Houses in Normandy, France.

Let’s consider those who pull up their roots and take it upon themselves to gain citizenship in a new country. What is required if you want to call a new country your home? You have to take a test to prove your knowledge, your abilities with the national language, and so on. Once you get through proving your knowledge of historical figures and verb conjugations, it’s on to the tougher stuff – like trying to understand the unique national obsessions, or just getting that feeling of “home” when you turn down a street you’ve been down countless times before. For better or for worse, these are the elements that you can’t study and quiz yourself on, but are often the very parts of living in a new country that make you feel like an alien.

I have yet to try out another country for citizenship, mostly because having a Canadian passport makes travel and working visas very easy to come by, but I have tried to feel at home in other places. Those efforts have offered mixed results, but in all fairness I have never really committed myself to the process. It’s possible I never felt the need to because of the luxury I felt in wandering between countries where border patrol officers would look at my passport cover, smile and welcome me in.

The city I live in

A city is a much better sized space in which you can feel connected and feel a part of it; more so than an entire country. So, what are the things that make your city feel like home to you? Again, it could just be the place where you were born and raised, and the fact you feel it’s a part of you for that reason alone.

I spent six years living in Seoul, South Korea and for the majority of that time I felt like an alien. There are so many reasons why I never felt at home in that massive city, but sometimes while on my way down a road I had walked a million times, I felt that wave of familiarity. It was bizarre to have this feeling of “home” wash over me in a place that usually made me feel like I had ten heads, and it made me think that perhaps I could manufacture that feeling anywhere if I stayed long enough.

Apartment complexes in Hong Kong.
Apartment complexes in Hong Kong.

Making a city that is relatively new to you feel like a home requires a few tactics you probably wouldn’t think of if it was your hometown. For instance, who is going to be your friend? Friends are of the utmost importance when you are trying to feel at home in a strange place. They can really keep you sane when you feel like you’re constantly going off the rails, they can become an extremely important part of a support system and often just make you feel like you belong.

But how do grown-ups make friends? What if you work with a bunch of jerks who you don’t want to see you outside of the office? If you find yourself in your mid-30s, living in a city that is unfamiliar and you don’t have any close friends, it can make you feel like you’re from another planet. It’s such a simple thing: to turn a corner down a street and spot your friends waiting for you at your usual hang-out spot. Such a simple interaction can have such a massive influence on making you feel like you are in the right place.

I secretly hope this is the case. I hope I can make “home” wherever I want it to be by giving it enough time and repetition, and eventually my roots will grow down into the soil and hold me steady.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll even start to crochet a little.

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