My mother wanted me to come home for lockdown, but France is my home

Dubliner Maeve Hoban-Logan on the dilemma many Irish emigrants face – where is home

Before the full lockdown was put in place, my mother asked me if I'd come home for it. This concept of "home" is something that is slightly different when you live abroad. Ireland always will be my home, but I also have a second home in Bordeaux, France.

I had no doubt that I wanted to stay in Bordeaux for the lockdown, but trying to explain this to people who only have one home is difficult.

I only moved to Bordeaux in September, at which point I knew absolutely no one. I’ve been living in France for a few years, broken up by a two year stint back in Dublin, but this region was completely new to me.

I can understand where was mother was coming from wanting me to return to Ireland. I do have friends here and live with a flatmate, all of whom are very kind, friendly people that I get on with very well, but it is in stark contrast to Dublin. Dublin is where I was born, went to primary and secondary schools, university and worked for a few years.

The version of home that I have in Bordeaux is my everyday home. I have my food in the fridge, my mugs and tea tin, my books, my computer, my photographs, and my elephant oil-burner that has come everywhere with me. I have my independence and my routine (albeit not exactly the same as usual).

In Dublin, I have so many things; my parents, my sister, my friends, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, and my ex-colleagues. I have places I know like the back of my hand and more memories than I could ever appreciate. Arguably, the things I have in Dublin are the important things. So why not go home?

This, I believe, is the ultimate expat dilemma. I love Ireland more than I could ever say, and every time I go home it makes me so happy to be in that wonderful country. I love walking down Grafton Street, popping into Dubray Books to have a browse (one of the things on my to-do list for when I do make it home), going to Co Donegal where my granny was from, and obviously seeing all my friends and family. However, I also love France. I've wanted to live in France since I first went to Paris in second year in school. I have always felt at home in this country. I love it here.

I adore the French language and have done since I started learning it in first year. I also love how in France they take the time to slow down and enjoy simple things, notably food and wine, both of which I am a big fan of. I’m not a big drinker, so the drinking culture in Ireland isn’t something I’m a fan of. I’m much more into food, as are the French.

A year after I finished college, I went to live in Nice for two years, then I went back to Dublin. I went back, because, despite having loved living in Nice, it wasn’t for me. However, within about three weeks of being back in Dublin, I realised neither was Dublin. Not to live in. Everyone asked me why I wanted to go back to France, and while there are a number of practical, concrete factors I could cite, they aren’t the real reason. The reason is far more difficult to articulate, it is a feeling. That’s it. I feel comfortable, happy and at home in France. Now, when I go back to Ireland, I also feel comfortable, happy and at home, so I get to feel those things in two places, for which I’m very grateful.

The current situation has, however, put a real spanner in the works. Normally, I have my life in France that I love, and I can pop back to Ireland when I want or feel that I need to. At the moment, I cannot. This has made these harmonious senses of “home” feel less harmonious.

I have been feeling anxious, stressed and sad, and a lot of this is tied to the fact that I don’t know when I can go home as I normally would. When can I meet my dad in arrivals, have a big hug, and drive home babbling away (as I tend to do each time I land back in Dublin, from excitement at being back)? When can I meet my friends in Dublin, and talk about work, life, disastrous dates? When can I see my sister, force her to give me a hug (she doesn’t like hugs, although she’s got better)? When can I see my mum, go for a walk along the sea, walking and chatting until the sun goes down?

As the weeks of lockdown went on, and the possibility of being able to go back to Ireland for a visit seemed to be moving further and further away, I did revisit the idea of going back, quarantining and working from there until the foreseeable. The problem is that this goes against the whole dynamic of these two senses of home; they’re both wonderful, but they are definitively different.

I don’t live in Dublin, I don’t want to live in Dublin. If I went back to Dublin for a longer stint and worked from there, it would blur these distinctions. I need both of these homes, and I need them in their very separate, very distinct forms and functions. For the moment, I’ll enjoy my Bordeaux home, enjoy the “deconfinement”, as it is called in France. I’ll meet friends, go to the beach, go for walks, and be patient and wait for when I can again visit my Dublin home.