Garance Pellet contemplates how the concept of ‘familiarity’ can be a source of generational conflict. For TWSS Issue 15.
Sometimes I think of my grandparents, who grew up on the same street, and whose entire world was as big as the area they grew up in. Even the idea of moving to another city seemed foreign to them: the concept of another country was absolutely terrifying. When my mom announced to my grandmother that we would be moving to the United States, she reacted like we were leaving for America like an Irish family from the 1840s, departing on a boat and never coming back. She declared stress-induced diabetes soon after.
When I think of familiarity, I think of the many places that have become home to me over the years, but I also think about how maybe that has diluted my sense of ownership and membership of a single place. My grandmother could easily define her identity and values, according to the experiences that had shaped her growing up in the post-World War Two South of France. She could speak the local dialect, work on a farm and make many a meal out of scraps when times were hard. She loved her town, her family and going on pilgrimages to Lourdes once a year. Her sense of home and belonging to that place was always straightforward. In contrast, her granddaughter finds it hard to even define the concept of home.
Over the course of two generations, globalisation has intrinsically changed the shape of my family tree. I understand that for some parts of the population, access to travel has always been readily available, and therefore the development of it came as less of a shock. However, where I come from, unlimited travel was always seen as a ‘rich man’ type of behaviour; travel was something you did out of necessity, or to visit your family. You would go to visit someone you knew, not to stay in a hotel somewhere far away to have an ‘experience’. The discovery I made as a young adult – that it is possible to travel for fun – is still new, and so hasn’t stopped being thrilling and exciting for me yet.
Though now I get the privilege of feeling at ease in different places, I also have to get used to the fact that I don’t fit in or belong anywhere anymore. It’s a jarring experience to always be on the outside of any culture you might want to be part of – to always be reminded that you don’t belong. But if you decide to embrace it, it can become the most liberating of feelings: it feels like finally cracking the code of the human experience.
People feel so comfortable with consuming the products of a fast globalised world; we love eating spicy food and imported fruits, we love our music to be influenced with foreign sounds, and we want to dress in similar fashions to people living thousands of miles away from us. Yet, we don’t want to lose our sense of familiarity with where we live. We want to consume the culture, but we don’t want to see the people. In a time where travel is the easiest it has ever been, we want goods to be shipped our way but never be in contact with the person making these objects.
My grandmother feels as though her area is becoming unfamiliar to her, and fears for a loss of what she calls ‘identity’. This notion is one I’ve never understood, as many places have become familiar to me over the years, and I don’t see change as a thing to be afraid of, but another natural aspect of life. I want to scream at her that of course, the places she knows will change and that none of these places defines her like she thinks they do – but how do you explain that feeling to anyone? The feeling that, for me, country or area don’t matter more than any other random privilege you may be attributed at birth. It is easy for me to believe these things, and to have them reinforced by the echo-chamber of my friends, but it is so much harder to put such ideas into words and to communicate them. My experience will never be my grandmother’s, but I guess I have to appreciate the way that she imagines the world – and the way that I do, too.
Illustration by Maegan Farrow.