The idea of neighbourhood is based around the geographical boundaries of a community. It is lodged in space and time. We, too, appear to be lodged in space and time, but with our international connections, preferences and our love of the Internet, how well do we sit in the Swiss Neighbourhood?
As adults, we seem to have far less of an idea of what our local neighbourhood is than our children do. My daughter could tell you what “neighbourhood” means to her: it is our communal garden, the big street heading up the hill, and the sneaky children-only shortcuts between buildings (that no adult would dare take). It is the scary dog that barks at the fence and the huge tree in front of the school that is excellent for climbing; it is her best friend’s house; it is the flowers that tumble down the bank and the chickens who greet us on the footpath.
Ask an adult what it means and we become less sure, especially as expats/foreigners. When we look at our neighbourhood we don’t see the space and place, instead we see the people. If we have trouble relating to those people or speaking to them in the local language, then we can feel disconnected from the landscape in which we find ourselves living and disconnected from the neighbourhood.
Instead we make our own “neighbourhoods” based on our interests, language and culture. Our neighbourhood can stretch to the whole town, especially if our school of choice is international rather than local. With the broad reach of the Internet, our neighbourhood widens to expats in this country and friends and family back in our home countries. The concept of “neighbourhood” loses its geographical boundaries and becomes “community”: a community of choice rather than of geography and birth.
This is marvellous and highly liberating. We live in a global society where friendships and connections stretch around the world (and “stretched” feels about right some days!).
We are, however, in danger of missing out on the moment. We can walk straight across our local neighbourhoods without stopping to notice all the wonderful and tiny things that happen there – all the characters and the stories to be told. Your neighbourhood may no longer be located in time and space, but there is no getting away from the fact that your body is! Find things to appreciate or to make you wonder, or things that boggle your mind. Observe the rhythms of the people and the land. Allow them to observe you in return! You never know, they might just say, “Hi!”
By Tammy Furey
Tammy is a coach, educator, writer and blogger who lives in St. Gallen, Switzerland with her husband and daughter whilst attempting (badly) to speak German, fold her paper recycling in the correct manner and finish writing her book (www.thegratitudepapers.com). Visit her at www.fureycoaching.com
Illustration by Lara Friedrich
Lara has been a freelance illustrator for Mothering Matters since early 2013. She is in her third year of University (majoring in Psychology) where she’s currently working as an assistant in a research project in pedagogy. Lara is also an assistant translator from German to English for various fiction books, and also works as a demo singer for the songwriter Kate Northrop.