Mal du Pays

Well folks, I have been in Switzerland for just over a month, and the homesickness has just hit me. It is not because I’ve only just now started missing home…I think the adrenaline has just taken this long to wear off so I can be aware of it.

BASE jumping

Stress hormones: the body produces them for a reason. [source]

In French, homesickness is expressed as mal du pays, which means a sickness for one’s country. It is interesting that the English version is not as specific to geographic location…you can be homesick even if you are in your native country, so long as you are away from your home. The French version, taken literally, assumes you are abroad.

I’ve always though the English one begs the question…where is home? Is it where you hang your hat? If you’re someone who moves as frequently as I have, that can be a tricky question to answer. Conventional wisdom is that home is where the heart is, but that’s pretty ambiguous, too. There appear to be many places in the world where I have left behind bits of cardiac muscle.

For the last few years, home has been where my husband is, but now my husband and the place where I hang my hat are over 4,000 miles apart! Mal du pays, indeed.

For me, homesickness seems to be primarily taking the form of fatigue. It is surprisingly tiring to be surrounded by the sound of a foreign language day-in and day-out. It truly makes you appreciate how much filtering and processing your brain does automatically, without you having to work at it. When you do have to work at it, you’re twice as tired by the end of the day!


Odysseus is kind of the poster child for homesickness. Although he seemed to get more angry than tired. [source]

The same goes for not being familiar with your surroundings, and going to new places for the first time on a daily basis. There are so many stimuli that demand to be dealt with, which in a familiar place, simply get left out of the process of experiencing.

On the one hand it is exhausting, but on the other, it really makes you feel alive. You are never on autopilot, and you can never take anything for granted. Of course this will fade with time, so I can look forward to establishing a routine while enjoying the feeling of adventure!


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