Yesterday I went to a newly discovered hairdresser and came home elated beyond what should be normal for a simple haircut and highlights. It wasn’t just the fact that this was the first time in my three years on the Cote d’Azure that I didn’t walk out of the salon repeating ‘it will grow, it will grow, it will grow…’ It took me a while to figure out, but I finally realised that my ear-to-ear grin as I drove home was due to having finally found MY hairdresser.
Looking back on all the places I’ve lived, those where I can still specifically remember my hairdresser were locations where I felt the most settled. It isn’t that I’m hair-obsessed or particularly picky (at least I don’t think so). It is just that having a place I happily return to every other month gives me a solid anchor to the place I live.Otherwise, I spend days before an appointment agonising and wishing I was in Holland or Lagos where I do have favourite hairdressers. Visiting the salon is a solid part of my routine, a piece of the puzzle that completes my life at the place I now call home (even if this house is a part-time ‘holiday’ home).
In The Mobile Life, Anne and I talk about the importance of setting up routines when we move to live in a new place. Part of what is commonly called ‘culture shock’ is the frustrations, disappointments and energy drain it takes to establish these routines. Routines help us feel settled, and until these are in place, we feel out of sorts, disorganised, un-rooted.
I’d say there are at least three categories of routines we have to have before our life in a new place feels complete.
• The first are routines we have to have as necessities in life: where to get groceries, the time you need to get up to get to work on time and the best route to get to the office or school, identifying the good and practically situated medical facilities…that sort of stuff. These are routines we quickly set up, because we need to have those in place in order to function.
• Then there are the things we like to do, the activities that make daily/weekly/ monthly life enjoyable and ‘normal’: an ideal hairdresser, a favourite café for that weekly cappuccino-and-newspaper break, a cinema that plays the ‘right’ type of movies. These are routines we often don’t seek out consciously even though we should because they are such an important part of how satisfied, relaxed and fulfilled we feel in our environment.
• Finally there are the activities we do: the clubs and societies we belong to, the sports we do etc. Although we often actively seek to establish these routines consciously, we are often not aware of how important they are to our psyche – especially if what we want to do is not available or not of the right frequency or quality.
Because I don’t live in France permanently, it is taking longer to get my routines established than if I had moved here full-time. I’ve been here three years and am still very much working on establishing the second and third types of routines. Each little accomplishment makes this house, this neighbourhood and this region feel more like home – a place I am increasingly happy to come back to.
The real trick to establishing routines is to reflect on what you want in terms of daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly routines BEFORE you even get to your new place. There are two questions you can ask yourself:
1. What is it that I have in my current daily life that I will want to replicate at the new place? For example, in Lagos I have a lady who comes to the house to do my nails. It is a luxury I would love to replicate here at my holiday home. I still haven’t found the right place or person, but I’m working on it.
2. Given the differences in the environment between my current and future home, what will I need to establish as routines in order to be truly satisfied in my future life? In my case, I have loads of time to work in Nigeria and far less when I’m technically on holiday in France. But writing is my work and my passion – I get irritable when I don’t write. I therefore try to decide on a number of hours I will work a day. This summer I decided 2 hours a day would be enough. So far so good.
What happens if you don’t reflect on your desired routines before arriving? Well, your life ends up taking the shape it does more by happenstance and coincidence than by design.
It is already difficult to set up the routines we want to have without leaving it up to chance – look at how long it took me to find a hairdresser I was happy with even when I was actively looking for the right one. If you are not actively looking to set up something that is important to you, it will be all the more difficult to create. If, after a year or so at your new place you are still not feeling settled, it may mean that you don’t have the right routines in place.
I was struck at just how happy my discovery of the hairdresser made me feel. I felt a bit childish – so easy to please with such a small event. But it goes to show how subtly important routines are to our daily existence. Establishing them should not be taken for granted.
Diane Lemieux was born in Quebec, Canada and began travelling at the age of three. She has lived in ten countries on five continents and speaks English, French, Dutch and Portuguese. She has a BA in communications, an MA in development studies, a post-MA in International Relations and a journalism diploma. She has ten years experience in international development and fifteen years as a freelance author and journalist. She is the author of four books including The Mobile Life: a new approach to moving anywhere and Culture Smart! Nigeria.