Category Archives: Assessing your needs

Relocation & Expat Resources – Your New Home Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition.

Double Life

We’ve just arrived back in the US, after spending Thanksgiving in the UK. And it’s very very strange. For one thing, the word ‘home’ is forever used in inverted commas, because it’s never really clear where home is. The old adage “Home is where the heart is” is absolutely no help whatsoever, because there are people I love and memories I treasure everywhere we have lived, with the small exception of a two bedroom apartment in Playa Del Ray.

This one was a tough visit. It seems we will be transferred to the US on a more permanent basis, and so our home in Wales is now on the market and our whistlestop visit there was eaten up with the practicalities of what to take and what to leave, and trying to capture all the happy memories on camera before we leave for good. The Less Wiggy One pointed out that everywhere we go, we just “get rid of everything”, which in material terms, is startlingly accurate. And while I don’t miss many of the ‘things’, we are in danger of losing the memories that come with them.

Yet again, our family and friends saved the day. A chance Facebook message from a cousin who my children don’t even remember meeting morphed in to a mammoth tea and tale telling afternoon, full of laughter and stories from three generations of people who are an integral, if no longer immediate, part of our lives, but who between them can paint hilarious pictures of our family foibles for seventy years. My sister pulled out all the old, out-of-focus photos from our childhood, inciting two days worth of retelling of adventures in early parenting, while my mother had the black and white proof that yes, indeed, being un-photogenic was a family trait. And an evening with my brother and his family, where we picked up our stories exactly where we left off a year ago, without so much as a pause for thought, was a timely reminder to the children that it’s the people that are the custodians of our memories, not the bricks and mortar. Unless you count Julian and Gill, who have the children’s handprints immortalized in cement on the floor or their greenhouse, another discovery that the rest of us had forgotten.

Relocating is a double edged sword. You experience new places, and meet people that you now can’t imagine not being part of your life, but you also leave behind those very people with every move. We are really lucky that we have friends and family who are incredibly tolerant of our nomadic ways, who regardless of how long or how many visits it has been since we have seen them, still stay in touch. We didn’t get to see most of people that we wanted to see this time, but there is something incredibly humbling about having messages left on a phone that is used for one week a year, or Facebook messages or emails, that offer a welcome, a bed, a meal, or most importantly, security of knowing that we may be gone, but not forgotten.

 

My Favorite Ways to Choose a Neighborhood.

Choosing a neighborhood is partly to do with practicalities, and partly to do with your own preferences, all of which are different for every person or family.

 

Go for a drive

This is my personal favorite, and the one I do first when choosing locations. Getting in the car (or on a bike, which is often even better) and just driving around the residential areas will quickly give you a clear snapshot of the people around you and the lives they lead. Are the houses single family homes or townhouses, condos, apartment blocks? What is the level of maintenance, and are the homeowners out maintaining them, or playing in the yards or local parks. Are people out walking or cycling? Do people stop and say hello if you are walking? Are children playing in the street, and are they supervised? Do the houses have very evident security features, and high fences, or are the yards open?

 

And what about dogs – often the breeds of dogs give clues about what type of needs the local people have – are they ‘vanity’ or ‘toy’ breeds such as Yorkies, Chihuahuas or Shi-tzus; family dogs like mutts, Labradors, Retrievers etc, or are they guard dog breeds – German shepherds, Dobermanns, Pit bulls or Rottweilers. And yes, I know these are broad generalizations, but you can see what might reflect your own lifestyle choices. Some of us see children playing on the street as a sign that it is an area with strong family values, a safe neighborhood, and calm traffic; others see it as a potential for broken windows, loud noise levels and no peace. It’s not about what these characteristics mean to others, it’s what they mean for you and your day to day living. What do I look for? Single family homes, homeowners carrying out their own maintenance, no gated communities, a mixture of all age groups, dogs that don’t bark incessantly whose owners pick up after them. And yes, I do have three dogs who have been with us for a total of 24 years and 3 continents, so it’s not that I don’t like dogs.

 

 

Shop at the Stores – (especially grocery stores!)

Everyone has to eat, even stick thin celebrities, so one of the quickest ways to get a snapshot of your local community is to head to the local grocery stores. All of them.

Not only do you get a pretty accurate picture of the local demographics, you also get a quick and dirty on their driving skills, their manners, and their eating habits. Oh, and if you are single, it’s a great place to meet fellow singletons..

 

Parks & Recreation Facilities

While you may never see anyone during working hours, here’s where you get to see your neighbors at play. But it’s also where you get to see how they behave in the sandbox – do they share, do they fight, or do they all play together nicely. Remember those school days when you watched the dynamics of the school playground? Well, the names and ages may have changed, but the rules sure haven’t, and here’s where you decide which team to try out for.. Or not.

 

So while we’ve taken a lighthearted look at good ways to check out your new neighbors, the bottom line is this – how did it all make you feel? Sure, you don’t know anyone, but did the places and people make you feel comfortable and want to hang around, or did the little voice inside you tell you to get in the car and drive on to the next place? Call it intuition, call it gut feeling, call it what you want, but it’s actually you picking up on all the social signals that are sent out, and your job is to hear what’s being said, and decide whether you agree or not.. Happy hunting!