21 May 2016

243. Welcome home







"Welcome home" is a phrase you often hear in English. It sounds lovely. It stems from the heart and carries benevolent feelings. In the scriptures, it is what the old man could have said to his prodigal son when he saw him a the end of the path, coming home.

I have two examples in memory when hearing it stirred me to tears: that time in 1997 when we made it to port late at night after three days of howling weather sailing a boat into Auckland harbor. It is what the Customs officers said to the Captain. Welcome home! It was not addressed to me, New Zealand not being my homeland, but it felt real good.

The other memorable occasion is when flying from Europe to the U.S.A. in 1980, it was announced the plane was beginning its approach to the Kennedy airport. Americans in the plane clapped loud and clear. They were delighted to be landing back in their homeland.

I don't want to sound bitter and bickering here. I only want to state how it feels when you are a French expat coming home. There's no phrase equivalent to "welcome home" and Customs officers have no special benevolent feelings for you. A phrase I heard once when arriving from a distant land was: "qu'est-ce que vous êtes allée faire là-bas?" (something like: what on earth did go there for?) You get no special treatment for belonging to your homeland. In Britain back in the 60s there were two queues for people arriving at Customs, one for British citizens and one for "aliens", foreign people for which Britain was not their homeland. Fair enough. I do think that nationals should not be treated just as anyone else. In my view your nationality is a very precious part of yourself. It is not something you can put on or off like a hat. It should be "inaliénable", i.e. hard to get if you are not born into it, indeed very hard to acquire, but "inaliénable", i.e. an inalienable right to belong to a definite nation. Then, that nation is your homeland. The land you regard as your home, where you are welcome wholeheartedly when you return from a long stay away. No matter what.

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