This March, it will be ten years since I first came to Liverpool. Which means I’m old, my wild youth is firmly behind me, and time really does fly.
My whole adult life so far — marriage, kids, house — has happened in England. Send me to Germany, and I would have trouble applying for a current account or taking my children to the pediatrician. Germany is for holidaying these days, and bringing home local sweets and quality coffee. It’s my past; the place where my childhood and adolescence happened, and where my old toys are boxed up in an attic. Having such a localized past has its advantages: You have a clean slate in your new country, and nothing to do but grow up. You might as well have a little fun first, since nobody’s watching, but after that, there is no going back. The past is quite literally a foreign country.
The future is, as for most people, uncertain. Again, being a stranger can help. In a country you weren’t born in, everything is an adventure; you’re used to it, and for the most part, you enjoy the ride. Thinking about your future is merely an extension of that. Onwards and upwards.
But, of course, I’m torn. I am two people: One of me is settling in, enjoying the ride, becoming a local. But when I sit down and the sunlight falls through my window at a certain angle, I’m the other me, the one that immediately remembers the way the light falls through German windows. While one of me enjoys the sight of orderly Victorian terraces, the other me misses the imposing grace of the four-storey apartment buildings that flank the streets I used to play in. I’m constantly in two places, and two times, at once. Sometimes it’s a burden, but generally, the additional knowledge is useful. Sometimes, conversely, I feel that I’m forced to forever miss half a life. I can’t have it all; but then, nobody can. I’m in a good place, both figuratively and literally. Things are so much easier in England, and more easy-going. I have everything I need, and occasionally, little everyday things are still incredibly exciting. Sunday shopping and free nursery hours will never cease to amaze me. After five years, I thought I’d go back to Germany one day; by now, it’s become too foreign and unfamiliar. I have no place there, because I’ve never made one for myself.
It’s been eleven years since the opening of the British labour market to Eastern Europeans. I’d love to talk to the people, new arrivals like me, who I met here ten years ago. Some of them are still around, others have gone home and done the adult thing there. I should really track them down and find out if they have similar stories. A lot has happened in those years, and it’s exciting to watch history unfold, both on a personal and a sociological level. Let’s keep watching.