Last week when Coco was sick, I did the old onion trick. I sliced an onion in half and placed the two halves, cut side up, in the corners of Coco and Theo's room on the floor. The onions absorb all of the toxins out of the air and pull the sickness away from your children. This is what everyone does when their kids are sick, right?
Mic drop. Old wive's tale? Taking integration to a new level?
The onion trick is not an old wive's tale; it totally works. And I had certainly never thought of putting cut onions in my sick child's room as having anything to do with integration.
But, I guess when I stop and think about it, I cannot say that I got this idea anywhere but from the Swiss. And when I think about it a little more, my mom never put cut onions in my room when I was sick as a child. Did yours? Maybe this isn't what everyone does when their kids are sick.
In all the articles I've read on repatriation, many of them point to the length of time one has spent abroad as an indicator of how difficult it will be to return home. But another, bigger indicator, even more important than time, is the degree to which one has integrated into the local culture. I began to suspect a while ago, as I delved into my research on repatriation, that J and I had integrated in Switzerland to a very high level without realizing it. But because I was unaware of the ways I had integrated, I couldn't say what they were. It may sound trite, but reading Johanna's post was an aha moment for me. Suddenly, I had one very clear example of how we had integrated fully and without realizing it. I mean it actually is of some significance that I am here in the US, enlisting Coco's help to put cut onions on the floor of their room before bed.
I still don't feel completely normal since returning from living abroad. Sometimes if Theo or Coco wake me up at night and I can't fall asleep again right away, I'll read articles or essays about or by others who have been through the same thing. Last night was one of those times and I came across an article from BBC Capital entitled, "The problem with being a long term expat." One paragraph in particular really stood out to me:
"Many people start to repatriate when they want to settle down and have a family,” says London-based career performance coach Nikki Thomas, who spent two years working in Hong Kong. “It is the idea of bringing their children up in the same country [where] they were born, and giving their child the same passport – their identity. It’s also that you see your homeland through rose-tinted glasses after you leave, and as the generations get older you want to be ‘home’ for your parents.”Bingo. It's pretty easy to feel foolish for having left Zurich and for having never recognized the extent to which we were integrating but when I read that, I see it in a whole new light. I felt guilty living far away from family in Zurich. I felt like it couldn't be forever. I felt like it was important to raise Coco as an American and it's comforting to know lots of other expats have felt those same things, and acted on them too. Maybe it's not as foolish as it is natural.
But the article goes on:
The problem is that those glossy expectations may not measure up to reality. The world keeps moving while you are gone. Expats too often underestimate the transformational aspect of living overseas for an extended period. “Living and working abroad can change the employee and their family members profoundly, and in a way they could never anticipate,” says Jenny Castelino, director of intercultural sales and account management at Cartus.Sigh. We really didn't have the faintest idea what we were getting ourselves into moving abroad. It's not easy feeling the pull to be near family, disillusioned by our 'glossy expectations' and profoundly changed in ways we never could have anticipated. I was genuinely surprised to see that Snopes gave the onion trick a fat red X for "False." Can you believe that?! (Don't answer that.) But it doesn't matter. I'm still going to keep doing it.
(Illustration via Ryo Takemasa)