When we flew into Schiphol airport outside Amsterdam, I had a great sense of relief: Relief that the long plane ride was over, excitement to see my husband again, and the shoulder-relaxing sensation of being back home. And there I’ve said it. Home. Usually, that’s a term I reserve solely for central California, the place where I grew up and where I just spent the last five and a half weeks staying with family and friends. That is the place where people speak my language. Not only the English language, but Central-California-Coast English.
In this particular liberal leaning dialect, all know that the Monsanto Corporation, with their genetically modified crops, is evil; that gay rights are inalienable rights; that tomatoes and blackberries are things to be picked fresh off the vine and eaten immediately; that open space is a valuable commodity that should be preserved; live music a treasure to the soul, humor a form of religion, and speaking wittily, yet openly and kindly with others a way of life.
After spending five and a half weeks in California, I almost felt like I’d moved back home. Almost. The problem was, my sweet husband hadn’t come with us. He was back in The Hague, holding down the fort, working on the house, skyping and calling us every other day, and reminding my son and I by his mere absence, that we had another home on the other side of the ocean. The incredible sunshine, cultural familiarity, friends, family and all the charms that “my California” offers are far more compelling than the most creatively designed sales brochure or million dollar ad campaign. Nothing can sell you more than being understood, comfortable and wanted. And a big part of me wanted to stay.
Yet, now that I’m back in The Netherlands, I want to be here too. Not only because my husband is here and my job is here, but because our three-level apartment in The Hague has become our home away from home, the school Ezra attends his school and the people we’ve met our other community. Perhaps I’m a much simpler creature than I want to believe, and one of those hand crocheted little wall hangers that says “home is where the heart is” sums up my ability to transition so easily from one culture to the other. Or, maybe I’m just culturally slutty in that seventies, free loving, Crosby, Stills and Nash “Love the One Your With” way.
In either case, neither world is perfect. Here in The Hague I can ride public transport, walk or bicycle to just about anywhere I need to be, providing me the rare ability to avoid car culture altogether–a virtual impossibility should I live back in California. If I want the European experience, I only need step outside my door. If I want a European vacation, I need only a free weekend to venture by train to another city, or country, for that matter, and gaze upon breathtaking town squares from the 1600s, something I can also do in my “home away from home” town.
On the other hand, although Arie Jan picked up quite a bit of CCC English during his six years with me in California, I haven’t met anyone else who truly speaks my dialect. On top of that, I communicate most of the day in a foreign language I haven’t yet mastered, meaning that I feel held back, and unable to fully express myself. Yet there is something exciting about the daily challenge of language acquisition. It is as if my every waking day is a treasure hunt, and every person I interact with potentially the one to offer up a new Dutch word, that upon that day transitions from a word I keep forgetting, to one given over to my permanent collection. How would you weigh being understood immediately compared to a daily treasure hunt?
And more importantly, where is home? Where is my home away from home? And which city becomes my home away from home away from home? I would never want to be described as two-faced, because of course that expression holds only a very negative connotation. But I do have two worlds in which I reside. And when it comes down to it, I’m leaning much more heavily toward the promiscuous approach to my two cultures of Love the One your With.