Nostalgia, despite its apparent linguistic roots, has a well-documented history as a Swiss phenomenon. In the 17th century, it was actually believed to be a medical condition experienced exclusively by the Swiss. The word itself is a Greek-Latin transliteration of the German word “Heimweh”, or as we know it “Homesickness”. The symptoms included anything from mild melancholia, through to indigestion and even death. Some military doctors postulated a link between the condition and brain damage caused by hearing too much cowbell. [read all about it on the Wikipedia page]
A large part of Switzerland’s national identity – at least the one it sells to tourists – is built on this sense of Heimweh. In the 18th century, the sound of the Kuhreihen was banned among Swiss mercenaries because it was said to trigger nostalgia. Interestingly enough, this alphorn tune is the same sound they play on the skyrail between terminals in Zürich airport. I can’t get through that airport without crying.
I’ve been getting Heimweh pangs for a while now. Sometimes from a smell; sometimes from a friend’s Instagram story. But now that I am in Switzerland – where I get a daily dose of mountains and cowbells – my nostalgia is for Aotearoa. Here are my Top Five Kiwi Heimweh triggers for the last month:
Te Reo Māori
In Switzerland, I get to hear all sorts of cool languages and dialects as I navigate my way around the country. It’s a real blessing to be able to live in such a cosmopolitan area; experiencing different cultures and learning about everyone’s stories. But there is nothing as simple as hearing someone say “Kia ora!” to make my insides crumble. It makes me feel a little ashamed to not know more Te Reo; and that’s something I can work on. Maybe one day I’ll be able to pass the aroha on to another sensitive expat.
I wish I could say that my nostalgia has been triggered by the actual taste of a feijoa. This has been the first ever year that I have entirely missed feijoa season and it’s been bloody tough. Many of my friends seem to have had bountiful harvests, and were unabashed in sharing their fruit on Facebook. Last year we had a feijoa bread in the freezer from our neighbour Jenny which we ended up throwing out because it had freezer burn. What I wouldn’t do for some freezer-burnt feijoa bread now, Jenny!
I haven’t been in open water since February. I had to google “benefits of swimming in the ocean” to try and back up my need to get back into some salt-water, but the connection is purely nostalgic.
I took this picture when I went for a swim on the West Coast on New-Year’s day. I probably nearly died that day, but when I look at the picture I can almost hear the waves thrashing and thrusting their way to shore. Rivers and lakes just aren’t the same.
Social media, generally, is a hexed maiden. In one way, I am so lucky to have access to these tools – to keep in touch with friends and see what everyone is up to. But on the other hand, it stops me from jumping in the deep end of my new country. One thing which has had me blubbering during my train rides is the view of misty morning commutes in Snapchat stories from home.
It’s not what I thought I would miss about Auckland, but the image cuts me right in the feels. Top it up with the sound of tires on wet tar-seal and I’m a mess.
Crowded House – Don’t dream it’s over
Today I accidentally watched a 10 second clip of Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus singing Don’t Dream It’s Over for the Manchester One Love concert, and then I proceeded to cry in my bed for good half hour. It is by far the strongest nostalgic reaction I have had so far. Yes, I know Crowded House is largely an Aussie band, but I grew up with that song! I guarantee that twangy riff will set off any kiwi with half a heart!
I’d love to hear about your nostalgic experiences! Leave a comment and let me know about what makes your pine for home.