Thousands of expats living in London have been competing for months to buy the cheapest Ryanair flights and have a chance to visit their family during the Easter holiday. I am not one of them.
Nostalgia for friends and family is obviously one of the great challenges of living abroad. At the beginning, the main feeling is the fear they will mess it all up while you are not there to keep an eye on them. Within three months, the bittersweet realisation that they are actually very much fine without you takes its place.
Visiting them remains one of the priorities. But there is no need to do it during festivities, as I found out.
I stayed in London at Christmas time. My flatmates had left, so I suddenly ended up alone in a big and quiet house. I thought it was going to be slightly depressing, but it actually felt peaceful. It gave me time to think and make plans for the future – the best New Year’s resolutions I have ever written in my life, although putting them into practice will be a different matter. I finished a book that had been waiting on my shelf for the past two months. And I obviously binge-watched an extra long TV series.
On Christmas day, I left early in the morning on an Uber to volunteer in a homeless shelter. London was cold, still and strangely beautiful. The day at the shelter was very busy and I barely had the time to stop and think about what I was missing at home.
But what was I missing, in fact? Tons of food and warmth, yes. But also that annoying uncle who is always complaining about politics and at the same time never votes at the actual election. My mother getting stressed about the house not being clean enough. People I meet once a year suddenly super interested in my personal life.
London has been called “one of the loneliest city in the world”. According to Timeout’s City Index, 55 per cent of Londoners think that their city can sometimes “feel like a lonely place to live”. Most people I have talked to in my seven months of London life have mentioned it at a certain point of our conversation.
The city is so big and fast-paced that it is actually difficult to create a lasting bond with someone. Friends are busy, live on the other side of the city, find better jobs somewhere else. In London, showing up at social events is not called fun, but networking. Which is another word for work – though at least it usually implies wine.
During festivities, people are particularly vulnerable to loneliness and depression. For expats, holidays are a neat reminder of the downsides of moving far away from home – mum’s roast and potatoes are separated from you by two hours plane and you missed at least a couple of episodes of your best friend’s last date drama.
But loneliness is only negative if you consider it so, and if it is a permanent feature of your everyday life. Instead, purposely embracing it for a short time can help us stop dreading it.
Once tried, isolation actually builds up quite quickly to a luxury we occasionally feel a real need for. It is a space to feel all the emotions we daily suppress while running around in a hurry. It can give unexpected clarity to your thought process and a boost to your determination.
Spending the festivities away from home may also mean a bit of boredom – but this is not necessarily bad news, especially if you are struggling with a creative task. Research shows that people who are bored perform better in creativity tests, while professionals have suggested that letting your mind wander is the best way to produce great ideas.
To be fair, chances that next week you will finally write the book you have always dreamed of are still very low. But at least you may come up with the topic and the plot.
I would not recommend opting out of the traditional Easter supper forever – your grandmother might disown you, among other things. But if you are living abroad the cost of flights gives you a great excuse to skip festivities every now and then and earn yourself a week of tranquil idleness.