Being Cityless

In Short Thoughts, Travel

It’s a strange feeling having lived all over the place, and not having one place any longer that I can call ‘Home’.

My movements:

  • I spent the first four years of my life in Venice
  • The next three years in Palermo, Sicily.
  • Then twelve years in London
  • Then back to Palermo for three years.
  • Then Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I’ve been for the last four years.

So now I’m in a situation where the concept of home doesn’t exist any longer. This is a strange way to live, and I’m somewhat envious of those that have a city to call home, while I feel like a permanent tourist.

However, this has led me to have a unique perspective on what home is, and I want to reflect on this matter in today’s essay.

So, what do we consider a home city?

  • A city where you speak the native language
  • You know the local customs
  • You have a sizable amount of friends, acquaintances, and perhaps even family members living there
  • You work or do business there.
  • And so on…

So basically, it boils down to three main areas:

  1. Economic
  2. Social
  3. Cultural

Economic Home

This is now becoming more and more of a strange way of looking at things, especially in light of the potential for remote work and the highly connected world we live in.

I own a business in the same city where I live, but I hardly go to the office. I’ve probably been in twice in the last three weeks. For all intents and purposes, I might as well be on the other side of the world.

However, for a lot of people, this is not the case. They are expected to turn up every morning Monday to Friday at 9am, and they physically have to be there.

So if that is a requirement, then suddenly where you earn your money does have a large impact.

Social Home

The concept of home obviously calls back to family, but that is not necessary for an individual to feel “at home”.

If you’ve moved to the other side of the world for a long, long time, it may well feel like home even though all your family members are thousands of miles away.

What often ends up happening is that the friends you meet that are also in the same position become a certain type of family to you.

Cultural Home

This is one point where I’ve failed quite miserably. I’ve lived in Cambodia for four years but I still don’t speak the language very fluently, and I haven’t made a big effort to integrate myself with the local community.

I believe this is harder the further away you go, because general cultural gaps become larger with distance, unless you factor in some of the old Commonwealth countries (I would do ok in America or Australia, for instance).

I guess there are two main decision branches here.

You go “native” and fully embrace the local culture, but this can be very difficult when there is a large gap, which is something I’ve experienced in Cambodia, with the vast majority of the population being uneducated.

You swap the local culture immersion of something else, a group of foreign friends, hobbies, passions, work, and so on. This is the path I’ve taken, but it’s not a sustainable way of living.

Eventually, everyone needs a home.

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