From time to time, I get this saying on my mind, I guess because it has a nice rhythm to it. I know it’s a saying concerning good luck for a wedding/marriage, but it has occurred to me that it is a good way to explain migrant life. Here follows my little “analysis”, and I think it is one that most migrants can relate to.
The old represents all the cultural luggage we bring with us. It includes among other things our maternal language, traditions, values, worldview, conceptions and so on.
When arriving in a new country, we are expected to leave, if not all of it, so at least some of it, behind. But that is near to impossible. These things are part of who we are, it’s kind of in our bone marrow. And even if some of these things might fade, or disappear, it doesn’t happen overnight.
Unless we are already fluent in our new language, and have a habit of using it already, we keep thinking (and dreaming) in our mother tongue. Our mother tongue also defines our way of seeing the world, how we organise it, how we relate to others.
We also carry with us all those unexplainable rules about how to manoeuvre in society. What is polite, what is not, how to greet each other, when and with whom to be formal, and with whom we are informal. These are things that we learn from childhood, and it is hard to explain to others why it is like this. It’s just how it is.
Leaving all of this behind the moment you step on foreign soil is impossible, because it would be like erasing who you are.
That will be about everything we experience in our new country. The language, the culture, the food, how society is organised, values, traditions, social codes… It might even include the climate and topography.
Depending of our place of origin, what is new can be right out shocking, or it can seem familiar, at least on the surface.
In my case, the move from Norway to France seemed rather smooth at first, but I soon realised that even if the food was not that different, the unwritten and unspoken rules for socialising was indeed very different. Not to mention the language, which I didn’t master at all upon arrival.
I asked many questions about how to behave correctly, or perhaps rather why people do like this or that. But the answers remind vague until this day. With that said, little by little I have learned to manoeuver more in accordance to the rules, but I suspect that I will never master it as a native French. That’s also because at times it feels so contradictory to what I am used to, that it’s hard to adapt fully. I never want to be rude or insult someone by intention, but at the same time I find it hard to submit to social rules I find somewhat ridiculous. (Just to make it clear, I do respect the French law!)
In any case, as years have gone by, I have adopted a lot of French habits. It’s hard not to, when it’s part of your everyday life. And being married to a French, and raising our kids here, it feels only natural to adapt to my new environment.
It will be a natural continuation of “something new”, and the most important thing that we “borrow” when we arrive in a new country is the language. It’s the key to get to know people and to understand what’s going on both “big scale” (society) and “small scale” (local life, everyday life).
For some, learning a new language is easy. They arrive, and voilà, they master the language after a few months. That must be so fantastic, and people like that really impress me big time! But unfortunately it doesn’t work like that for most of us. We don’t go to bed one evening, and wake up the next morning speaking our new language fluently. It takes time, and it takes patience. Not just for the newcomer, but also for the others.
When I was still struggling a lot with the language, I got so upset with people who didn’t care to speak slowly, and who didn’t care to make an effort to understand me. I knew I made plenty of mistakes! I pronounced words wrong (I still do!), my grammar was horrible (it’s getting better). But I made an effort, and I just wanted people to understand that. When I got to know people who appreciated me learning their language, when they took effort to speak in a way I would understand (simple phrases, speaking more slowly), and gently correcting me, I was so grateful! And that made a big change in my progress.
The longer you stay in a new country, the more you pick up “their ways”. As mentioned above, it feels natural to adapt elements from the new culture as time goes by. And even things that seem strange in the beginning, becomes a natural part of life. Maybe you don’t even really notice these small changes at first, but they become evident when you go back to visit your home country. It can be the way you organise the day, or what you prefer to have for breakfast or dinner. Or the way you interact with other people. Myself, I have happily adopted croissants for breakfast, the ritual of aperitif, or apéro as they say, and cheese after dinner. None of this is common in Norwegian daily life.
Every migrant knows that there are moments, short or long, when we feel bewildered and lost. Moments when we don’t manage to make ourselves understood properly, when we have this mixed feeling of anger and sorrow because we want to say something, but we lack the words. All the conversations we miss out on, because we don’t manage to articulate our views in our new language.
Moments when we feel utterly homesick, and just want to jump on the first plane to our native country. When family and friends could just as well have been on the Moon, because they are no longer where we are. Phones are good, but it’s not the same as sitting face to face.
When we realise that friends got lost, because it turned out to be too difficult to keep in touch when the geographical distance got too big, and daily life is too full of whatever needs to be done.
When we feel like having a proper conversation in our mother tongue, to discuss something important in life, but there’s no one around.
When something out of the ordinary happens, and all we want is to be close to our family and friends, but it’s not possible. Like when someone in the family turns sick, or dies, or someone is celebrating an anniversary or wedding, and we are not able to attend.
Feel free to leave a comment it you have something you would like to add or experiences you would like to share. Wish you all a nice day!