I’m not entirely sure when but at some stage during the last recession, the Irish Times started running a regular feature called Generation Emigration.
I was living in Ireland at the time, as I did for all of that recession, and I was mildly annoyed with them. Firstly, this was hardly the first generation to have emigrated in mass numbers and the previous lot were less than 10 years previous. I emigrated in 1994. A lot of people I know did. And secondly, emigration can either be mourned, but you’ll be more successful if you see it as an opportunity and an adventure rather than a complete imposition.
I’ve no doubt the Irish Times did this because it paid them to do so but having read a bunch of the pieces, I found it all mildly depressing, and perhaps that was the angle they were aiming for. They’ve since renamed the section The Irish Abroad which I suppose is a little less depressing.
I don’t know that it was the label Generation Emigration that made it depression. It’s just I read enough pieces talking about people missing home that even though I was in Ireland, I was starting to climb the walls, and then when you got the pieces about people who had decided to Come Home it was really depressing.
I did all this. I did the emigrating in 1994, and I did the Coming Home in 1999. One of the things I knew then and still know now is that having lived elsewhere changes you and there will always be things that you miss. Certainly, Lidl and Aldi alleviated a lot of those things over time and eventually Tesco started stocking couscous as well. But nowhere in Dublin did hot chocolate like they do in Italy and only in that small village in Germany where I was working for a year could you get that really nice Mohnkuche. The years after coming home from Brussels were spent desperately missing street waffles. And I couldn’t get a decent haircut for love nor money.
The biggest problem when I emigrated the first time was tea. You couldn’t get that very easily at all or at least, you were stuck with Liptons Yellow Label which is the equivalent of hell for the discerning tea drinker; that is to say, someone for whom Barrys is the top level of tea. But there wasn’t much else. When I got back though, there were lots of things. Stroopwaffel (Lidl helps now and again), Parma Ham (took a few years but everyone eventually caught up), Butter with salt crystals (take a bow, and quite a bit of money, Marks and Spencer). Your horizons broaden and then, when you go back, they narrow again a little. I read a lot of pieces from people coming home that just made no sense to me because they focused very much on how everything was going to be perfect in Ireland this time. There never seemed to be any consideration given to the idea that in fact, being away changes people and well, with it, comes a little bit of longing. Of homesickness for a bunch of different homes.
Emigration now is different. I emigrated again last November. When I left the first time, I wrote lots of letters. Now, we have email, Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook. Phone calls don’t cost a fortune any more either. Ryanair makes a lot of journeys a lot easier and a great deal less expensive. Aer Lingus have seriously upped their range of routes. It’s all, in practical terms, far easier than it used to be.
It’s just, for some reason, I read a lot of pieces in the Irish Times that suggested emigration was really hard, and coming back was a lot easier. For me, it really was the inverse. Leaving wasn’t so hard. IN a way, it was an adventure. Coming back left little pieces of me in Finland, France, Germany and Belgium. Maybe not so much in London. And yet, I knew this would be the way it was. I sometimes wonder if the current returning ex generation emigration are set up to face this.