So we've been running all over creation for the last three and half years and living abroad for almost ten. In May, before visiting the United States we told people we were “coming home for a visit.” More recently, we found that Central Europe (Prague, by way of Vienna and Bratislava) still feels like home.
In an email just yesterday, one of our friends in Uruguay asked: “Are you back home finally or at least in the U.S.?”
It was his confusion that tuned us into a more universal query: Where is home?
And more importantly, what is it?
Our Old Definition of Home: Four Walls
A few years ago, Audrey would have told you that home was a place where she could hang things on the wall — a pleasant, simple definition that took its roots in her childhood. As a child of diplomats, she moved countries every few years. Houses and furniture were provided, so what made a place “theirs” were the familiar items on the wall.
I never really got attached to furniture, either (though there was that little antique drop-leaf table that my mother restored), but I enjoyed the little offbeat mementos that I would pick up on my meanderings. And where I placed those mementos – a piece of Sonoma Coast driftwood, a stash of Sanibel Island seashells – that was home.
As Audrey and I moved together, we carried this philosophy with us and filled our walls and topped our mantle with new things: a 1959 East German school map of “Afrika” (Africa, that is) and a collection of miniature framed paintings of fruit that we purchased in the vicinity of the guy dressed as the devil on the Charles Bridge in Prague.
But what about now when much of what we own is strapped to our backs?
Today’s New Definition of Home: Familiarity
The other day, we were having lunch at a workaday outdoor café in Bratislava, Slovakia. And something all too familiar happened: the waiter came by and took away our beers before we had a chance to finish our last two sips. In Prague, during our next meal out, our waitress swooped in on an unfinished plate of taštičky (ravioli-like dumplings).
Those two experiences were irritating on one level, yet oh so oddly comfortable on another. They made us laugh. We understood them. In fact, we could have predicted them.
We looked at each other in confirmation: Yep, we were home.
Knowing where to find lavash (Armenian bread), Indian spices, and Thai curry pastes at little corner stores run by Vietnamese and Turkish immigrants; watching trams trundle by on familiar routes; running errands that feel back-of-the-handish.
There’s no need for a map. This is home.
What Does Mr. Dictionary Say?
As I considered the meaning of the word “home,” I consulted my old friend the dictionary to find out that “home” comprehends a raft of accepted meanings including a few I’ve selected, in italics:
1. “a house, apartment, or other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household”
Wholly traditional. My only question is: but what about those of us without a “usual residence?”
2. “the place in which one's domestic affections are centered”
Domestic affections? What are those? Homey things, I suppose. But darker meanings lurk. (I kid, sort of.) Maybe a place where you feel comfortable in your own skin, perhaps a place where you can easily lay your head down to rest.
3. “any place of residence or refuge”
We’ve known so many of these. Too many. But I wouldn't really call any of them home.
4. “a person's native place or own country”
For us, this is the United States. But the phrase “own country” creates difficulties because when you live somewhere long enough, you begin to see it as your own regardless of whether or not you are native. The Czech Republic became that place for us — to the point where our Czech friends would accuse us of knowing their own country better than they did.
5. “a principal base of operations or activities”
For the digital nomads and location independent of us out there, this one must have a familiar ring.
Familiar, but perhaps still difficult to answer. Where is Uncornered Market’s base of operations exactly? Virginia, San Francisco, Nevada, Prague, Bangkok – or wherever we happen to be? Ask us on any given day and you might get a different answer each time.
The Pull and The Practical Bit
The modern nomad’s dilemma is this: it feels nice to be at home and to recharge batteries, but there is always somewhere or something else waiting to be explored. And that pull to discover is irresistible.
After writing this ode to feeling at home, we don't expect to be in Prague very long. We are looking for a short-term apartment to sublet in Central Europe for a couple of months so that we may catch up and work on some projects. At the moment, Berlin is high on our list so if you have connections or contacts there that could help us find a sublet, please let us know.
Until then, we’ll continue to enjoy this homey episode.
What about you?
What and where are home for you?
And if you are an expat, long-term traveler, or a full-time digital nomad: What does the word “home” mean to you?