Places that Fit and Places that Don’t

Sometimes a place fits. And sometimes it doesn’t. But you never really know for sure until you try it on.

Countries are, apparently, a lot like shoes. Sometimes they’re cute and loved by everyone you know, yet when you give them a go, you find yourself just a bit uncomfortable in them. Other times they can seem pretty average on first glance, but before you know it they’re the only ones for you and you can’t believe you ever found them anything but amazing.

I’ve had both experiences. I love Greece. I love the beauty of the islands. I love the spirit of the people. I even came to embrace the chaos. But as much as I long to go back there—to stuff gyros into my face all day long, to sit for hours at a cafe in the heart of Athen’s messiness, to hop the next ferry to whatever island—Greece doesn’t really fit me. We’re not opposites that attract in a pleasant, lifelong way. We’re opposites that find each other startlingly attractive, rush into a crazy affair, and then crash and burn in a fiery display. We never live up to each others’ expectations. We’re both forever trying to change the other. We are star-crossed.

Germany, I also love. It’s not nearly as showy as Greece, not as striking in its beauty, not as tempting in its offerings. It’s the land of fairy tales…but the Grimm brother versions, not the Disney versions. When you tell people you’re going to Germany, you don’t get the same sighs of longing as you get when you say you’re going to Greece. But Germany, well, it gets me. It’s solid and reliable. I know what to expect from it, I know how to behave with it. And every so often, it surprises me with some small delight, nothing big, nothing flashy for sure, but just a little something to keep me satisfied. I could grow old with Germany.

Yes, yes, I know…shoes, romantic partners…I’m mixing all kinds of metaphors in here. So I guess I’ll just go ahead and get to my point, which is that Sweden fits me.

From the moment I’ve arrived—and I commented on this to Jeff after my first day here—it’s felt surprisingly normal. It’s as if I’ve been here before (which, indeed, I have but it was for just a quick couple of days of being a tourist). I slipped in easily, a strange kind of familiarity surrounding me. Perhaps it’s the fact that our apartment reminds me of my dorm room in Germany. Or maybe it’s because in its weather patterns and its location on the water it feels like Seattle, which I’ve gotten used to over the past years. Or maybe it’s because I can recognize enough of the language, thanks to the similarities with German, to know what everything is at the grocery store, to read menus and store signs, to check bus schedules, to apologize to someone for not speaking the language when they assume that I can. I’m sure it’s a combination of factors, but the fact is that Sweden just works for me. I feel at home walking its streets, stopping in its cafes, shopping in its stores, and just moving through the simple ordinary acts of living. It’s a place that I’d feel comfortable adding to my “List of Places I can Live When Hell Truly Freezes Over and John McCain Wins the Election.” (Although I think I’d have to run off and have a torrid affair with Greece every winter…but, really, I think that wouldn’t be so terrible.)

Anyhow, what about you? What places feel like a natural fit to you and what places never fit right no matter how hard you try to make them? What countries would be on your own personal version of the hell freezing over list?

14 Replies to “Places that Fit and Places that Don’t”

  1. I love this metaphor, and I think it’s so true. There have definitely been places that feel more like home to me. Madrid for instance. I think it helps to speak the language a bit. Being in Brussels on the other hand was strange. I love the city, but I didn’t feel like I fit in. And the metro was impossible to figure out! I’ve used the metro in many cities, but when I can’t figure out the maps or the rows upon rows of schedules, I know that this relationship just isn’t going to work. We can flirt, but it just isn’t going anywhere.

  2. I think this post will resonate with a lot of us travelers. I am definitely with you on Stockholm and I’m beginning to see some benefits of the lagom-state of mind

    Berlin is also one such city that instantly envelopes and readily welcomes you without even trying.

    Also like Christine, Brussels did feel strange.

  3. Ireland was that for me, from the minute I stepped off the plane – it just fit perfectly. Honestly, I didn’t think that I was going to love it so much. Now, on the opposite end of that spectrum I could not wait to leave China. It was fascinating, an amazing cultural experience combined with a world history lesson. But, it did not fit me. Maybe it was the characters instead of letters, or the fact that I had to carry TP around with me.

  4. As much as I love France it’s one of those places where I feel like I could never fit in. I loved Slovenia and have always felt comfortable in Prague. Of course I feel comfortable in Germany too (so predictable!) and I really enjoyed Sweden for the few days that I was there. I think a lot of it has to do with how friendly the people are in a place

  5. When my husband and I decided to move to Europe in 2001, we spent a month on a “research trip” to test whether all the places we liked as tourists would really be the right fit for us as residents. In the end, only three of the seven cities really “felt right.” We took into consideration cost of living, ease of visas, and job opportunities, and chose Prague, Czech Republic. Our original plan was to stay 2-3 years, but ended up leaving after five years.

    One of the goals of our RTW journey is to find our next “home;” we’re keeping track of all the places that feel right. Like Sara, China’s not on that list. But, Bangkok, Saigon and Singapore are.

    Sweden is wonderful. I remember my first visit to Stockholm in February 1999 blew me away – such friendly people even in the midst of winter!

  6. Perfect timing for this post on my departure from Brazil! I spent 30 days there and once I made it to Uruguay, where I`m at right now, I would much rather go back to Brazil. I didn`t understand the language in Brazil, but I left fascinated by its foods, culture, people, music, beaches, girls… I guess I`m all too familiar with the way the rest of latin america is and being in Uruguay for just over a day I realize that I preferred not understanding a language and being forced to learn it than being in a country where I speak the language and somewhat familiar with the culture already, even if slightly different than other latin american countries.

    Brazil though, Brazil is something else and if it isn`t on your itinerary, I`d say try to squeeze it in, even if briefly.

  7. LOVE this post.

    Italy and parts of Canada fit like a glove. I’m smitten. Love to spend more time in France.. magical. Love to visit Germany.. met a lot of Germans while traveling and they’ve been so nice.

    I always thought New York would be the place for me.. that I’d fall head over heels… but strangely… it just didn’t feel right. DC… never again!

  8. WOW I envy these people. I don’t feel like I’ve traveled in any one country (other than the US) long enough to really determine whether or not it was a good fit. I’ve felt really good in Canada and Austria, but I have probably only spent a total of a week in each place so it’s probably not fair to say.

    I do love this post, though. There really is a difference when you leave a place–“did you like it, or did you LIKE it like it?” Do you want to visit again sometime when you have a week, or do you want to set up a bank account and unpack your things for a while?

    I would unpack in Boulder, New York, Phoenix, Asheville, or San Francisco in a heartbeat. I look forward to exploring Europe soon and being able to answer your question a little more honestly.

  9. Wow, finally I could stop for a few minutes and read it all. Travelling makes us busy, and we don’t have internet all the time. I don’t know how you guys can manage it all.
    But going to your point, this post is sooo true. I am still beginning my journey and I’ve already realized that will be so many places that I will fall in love and say “I want to LIVE here”.
    And there are other places that I was expecting to say this, because so many people talk about it, and it becomes a disappointment.

    I guess we tend to fit to countries that reminds us our home country. Even if in only small details. But I think we always need something that feels like home.. to have this sense of belonging.
    It’s not easy to live in a place where you feel all the time that you don’t belong there.

  10. Great post. This feeling of finding home away from home is always hard for me to explain to my more homebody friends/family. Many people don’t understand feeling at home in a foreign culture. Maybe it’s because I never felt truly at home in the place where I grew up, but I’ve felt it many times since then. I can usually tell within the first 2 days whether I’ll truly “click” with a place. It’s like a deep-seated nostalgia, a deja vu almost, like my soul belongs there. It always surprises me a bit when I get that familiar feeling. Other places are fantastic, and I might have a wonderful time there, but I just know that they’re not it. I tend to categorize places I’ve been according to where I want to travel back to (pretty much everywhere), where I think would be interesting to live for a brief time (also a very long list), and places that could be a true home (a short list of 5-6 places).

  11. It’s amazing how intuitive we are with places sometimes… just see it and you know it fits….when i stepped onto the champ elysee, i knew paris and i would get along….i hadn’t seen any of it but i just knew…. i think when you go travel, you’ll get in tune with the vibes of places easier and you’ll begin to have this feeling a lot (amsterdam is like that for me!).

    I love sweden too. i especially love how everyone is beautiful there. i’m the ugly duckling when i go but at least people are nice!

    maybe after this little RTW, you’ll end up back in sweden…that wouldn’t be so bad, especially if you winter in greece 🙂

  12. That’s a really insightful post. I’ve never thought of places fitting me in those terms but it makes sense. I loved the architectural and pastoral beauty of Switzerland and Austria but those places and cultures don’t fit me. Too exact and too neat. Italy however, from the hand-driven speech patterns to the fashion sense, is totally me. I’ve had to tear myself away every time I visit and every time I go, there’s no guarantee that I’ll come home. Florence, Rome, Venice, Naples, it doesn’t matter, it’s all me.

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