How did you get a new city to feel like home?
December 26, 2015 5:07 AM   Subscribe

We moved to a new city a few months ago. The move itself went fine, but I miss the feeling of belonging to a place I know well. How can I get that feeling here?

This place isn't totally new to either of us - we have both visited and spent time here before. Living here is a slightly different issue, though. We've got the basics nailed down - where to buy food, how to get to work, some places to visit at the weekend - but I still feel like a tourist.

So I'm interested in hearing from others who've felt like this after moving somewhere new. How did you get to know your new home well? How did you get to feel like you really belonged there?

(Complication: we both work full time and have a toddler, so time for exploration, meetups etc. is limited. But we do have weekends, and I have weekday lunch breaks in a very central location, so I can leave the office for a little while then.)
posted by Catseye to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a street food market near your workplace? What gave me a sense of belonging every time I made a big move was making a habit of going to a food market during lunch break, getting delicious food and interacting with stall owners. By interacting, I mean nothing more than small talk, but it always made me feel like I was part of the community.

I suppose belonging is less about food markets and more about making habits in your new city; I think habits are how you make it your own. Another one of mine was going to a big park near my home every Saturday morning. After I'd been a couple of times, it started to feel cozy and familiar; despite angry geese, it wasn't wildly exciting, but it was mine.
posted by frantumaglia at 5:46 AM on December 26, 2015

I think the key is people - friends. If you are visiting a city you typically don't know anybody there. If you live there you have a social network. With a toddler I think play dates / park meetups are probably going to be the path of least resistance to making friends. Check / Facebook Groups, etc.
posted by COD at 6:07 AM on December 26, 2015

I've lived in the same house since 1976, and sometimes it still feels like "the place I live" and not like "home".

On the whole, I think this problem will resolve itself, and your toddler will be a big agent of change. He has probably already led you to daycare and playgrounds. There will be toddler friends, play dates, birthday parties, and, eventually schools, parent's nights and teacher conferences.

Get the local paper, and stay informed on local issues. Shop locally.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:31 AM on December 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

For me, it was going to charity benefit events. It doesn't have to be a big fancy gala necessarily, some local groups had fundraisers at the local pizza place. This way, I am directly contributing to improving my community, and also have a chance to interact with others.

Also, take advantage of what your tax dollars are paying for. Hang out in the parks, go to some talks or classes at the library.
posted by Fig at 6:45 AM on December 26, 2015

Honestly, it just takes time. I've moved a lot an adult, and in my experience things start to feel more familiar after about 6 months, but (for me) it takes at least a year for a place to start to feel like home. In that year, it's good to put as much time and energy as you can into building a new social circle, because friends make a place feel like home faster than anything else. Try and explore your new city as much as you can, even if that means just walking around on your lunch break on nice days. Read the local newspaper. Go to community events if you can: holiday parades, local celebrations.
posted by colfax at 7:28 AM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

but I still feel like a tourist.

I think exploration is pretty key here - that way you learn things about the city that "everyone knows" (and so forgets to actually mention to noobs) i.e. this is the park everyone goes to when the weather is nice, that is the area of town with a bunch of art galleries, stay away from this area on Friday nights (it's where all the single 20-somethings go to get blind drunk); and you learn "secret things" unique to you i.e. there's a great Thai restaurant hidden down this street, turn left here and right here and you bypass a particularly horrible intersection, that thrift/secondhand store is surprisingly a great place to buy books, etc etc etc. The combination of both kinds of knowledge about a place is (IMO) a lot of what can make a city feel like "home."

Obviously, you'll have to limit your exploring to toddler-friendly times and durations, but I think even short relatively-purposeless excursions can help you learn things about your new city, just by osmosis.

If there are any free "arts and culture" weekly/monthly papers (it's been a few years since I've been to the UK, but I do remember them existing), checking them out can be a good way to get a feel for cool and interesting things that are happening around your city, even if you're not necessarily in a position to and/or interested in doing a lot of the things in the paper right at the moment.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:35 AM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah you're at the maximum homesickness stage of moving which doesn't help. Around the 2 -3 month mark the fun novelty wears off & the realisation this isn't home yet kicks in, it takes me about 6-12 months to start to feel settled and a couple of years to start thinking of my new location as home when someone asks where I'm from.

The thing that helped me the most was time and becoming a regular. I started going to the local korean restaurant for lunch once a week. After a few weeks, they knew my face, after a couple of months they knew my face, what I liked to eat and I could make small talk with the regulars.

I liked how this felt so went about intentionally adding the local non chain coffee shop & the local library to the list of places that I was known at. While I might not have been besties with anyone, that sense of being known was very grounding to me. I exist here in this space.

With a toddler you have built in access to a whole bunch of people that are really looking to connect with other adults. Go to play meet ups, nod hello at the regulars at child care, pass a bit of small talk with them. Get "your" cashier at the local supermarket/coffee shop. The trick isn't to drown yourself in new stimulae, you get enough of that everytime you go out. Get to know your town down deep in one location, to get really familiar with a few places. Become a local there in that one coffee shop/restaurant/park, then expand your range & add places you are known to the list slowly one by one. The best way to do this is time.
posted by wwax at 7:56 AM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is going to sound like a meh idea, but for me, when I moved across the country, the way I got to feel like I belonged or it was home was by watching the local news on TV every night and reading the local paper. Seeing all the car crashes and the local stories of people doing good just made me like the place and feel like I had been there a while.

Also, with my three kids, getting involved in their pre-school really helped.
posted by AugustWest at 8:30 AM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

In 2010 I moved to Budapest, not knowing any Hungarian, and not knowing any Hungarians. I was stoked, and did end up enjoying it (mostly), but on the very first night, alone in my new apartment on Dohány street, my anticipation and exhilaration shrank into a feeling of imposing loneliness and anxiety, directly related to being in the middle of a huge and unknown city, so intimidatingly real... My apartment didn't have an internet connection, which makes everything more intense.

What I did then was sit down and meditate. I had just been getting into meditation and I thought it'd be an interesting experiment. After 15 minutes of breathing, I was smiling and the anxiety was gone and I realized I had a lot of beautiful freedom. I put on my shoes and went to Tesco and bought cheese, bread, paprika, a bottle of Kékfrankos wine, and a bunch of other stuff. Went home and cooked and listened to some music and really loved my life.

I never felt at home in Budapest, but I started to feel at home in not being at home. Basho, the Japanese poet, wrote about it beautifully.
The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
I was just little me, in this vast old city, and I made my away around. Found stuff to do, routes to walk (so much pointless walking), podcasts to listen to, cafés to frequent (I went to the same place for espresso and internet nearly every single morning for three months), concerts, sights, spots by the Danube to sit and drink wine and think... I loved to walk across the bridges... I was a kind of perpetual tourist, without all the stress of having just three days to see everything, it was a very pleasant state of being.

There's an interesting dynamic between the home and the city. You want to make the city your home, but your home is a place inside the city. So there has to be a dynamic where your house is a place of (say) rest and food and family, while the city around it offers novelty, infinity, and escape. For me, severely limiting my use of internet at home is a way of stimulating this dynamic. Many people who live in a city don't go out much, and so they might feel like they're at home, but it doesn't have much to do with the city. As a newcomer, you have an impetus to explore. You're also free from the long-time dwellers' prejudices and aversions.

When I lived in Groningen for a while, on my first night I mentioned to a bartender I was interested in live music, and he was pretty knowledgable so he wrote down a list on the back of a coaster, with like fifteen different places to see live music, in order of what he thought was best. That's way more interesting than Yelp reviews because it comes from a coherent individual perspective, not an aggregate of the opinions of nitpicking tourists.

Another thought is that a city is made from memories. So I can think of a particular pub in Groningen that's one of a thousand like it, but I remember being there with my brother, I remember they had that particular autumn beer on tap, I remember that guy who came to play pool every Wednesday and his dog... Just returning to a place for the second time is different from the first time, since now you have a relationship with the place. If you let yourself "fall in love" easily, you can consider yourself a kind of regular somewhere after being there twice. You invent your own city by imbuing it with memories.

There's also something in the way you talk about places. I've noticed myself picking up a kind of love for names and nouns. Even on an airplane, when I talk with my family about the "Snack Bar," which is just a virtual menu on the entertainment system touch screen, I use its name so much that it starts to feel like an old friend. "Oh man, the Snack Bar is out of nachos. What's your favorite thing in the Snack Bar?" Same with the grocery store chain in Holland, Albert Heijn, I've said that name so many times. "I'm going to Albert Heijn. Oh man, if you get a coffee and a croissant at Albert Heijn and just sit outside on the stairs it's way cheaper than a café. Dude, this stupid Albert Heijn brand toothpaste tastes super weird."
posted by mbrock at 8:36 AM on December 26, 2015 [16 favorites]

An idea which may be too American: get involved in a church or other religious group. One thing I love about my church is that I don't just have friends who are my age with lives like mine (gen xer, married, no kids). I have friends who are baby boomer empty nesters, friends who are nice old ladies with great grand children, friends who are my age who have kids of various ages, and I know their cute little babies and their sarcastic teenagers. I have brought food to families with new babies and cried at funerals. It really is a way to join a community.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:44 AM on December 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Time. Depends on the city too. Toronto felt like home for me very quickly. It took me about 2-3 years before I felt like New York was "home".
posted by pravit at 9:44 AM on December 26, 2015

I was going to offer generic advice, then I looked at your location. The generic advice still applies, but in an actual useful fashion, not like it would in a city with a grid system. It's also the city where I learned this:

Never take the same route anywhere more than once. Always take the pedestrian only routes when walking. (Where safe, but safe everywhere in the city centre in daylight in your city)
Never go to the same coffee shop more than once in a row.
Go to the art galleries for short visits in your lunch break often. Likewise, wander through the botanical gardens in all weather and seasons.

Basically, make sure your mental map is filled out with everything from as many different angles and times as possible.
posted by ambrosen at 9:45 AM on December 26, 2015

Also, follow local Twitter accounts.
posted by ambrosen at 9:45 AM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was new to this (small, fairly rural) city a couple of years ago. Here are my suggestions.
- Hang a map inside the toilet door so you can see it when you're sitting on the toilet. Best way ever to get familiar with street names and patterns.
- Walk as much as you can, as many different routes as you can.
- Do go to the same coffee shop often, as soon as you find one you like. Become a regular.
- Likewise, try out all the local stores and then pick some of them to be YOUR stores, the ones you always go to.
- Participate in local stuff like street festivals, neighbourhood BBQs and charity stuff. It's a great way to get to know your neighbours. Join them when they are gathering around a bonfire or setting off fireworks. Bring something tasty to share.
- In my neighbourhood, there's a small association that organises three simple, small ultralocal events every year. I joined it immediately and now I help make decorations for one of those events every year, and participate in the others as well. It helps a whole lot. I get to see the whole neighbourhood at least three times a year. Be a part of whatever is going on in your street or neighbourhood.
- Find a place where you can volunteer and get to know people. As soon as you start meeting familiar people on the street and greeting them, you'll start to feel more at home.
- Read the local news (on paper or on a website).
- Go to street markets. Pick your favourite stalls.
- Join something. Anything. A club, a gym... something that appeals to you and where you'll see the same people all the time.
And yes, time. It takes time, but it will happen.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:05 AM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've done this a couple of times. Things that have helped:

* Making friends in the new city and friending them on FB - their news and event posts and comments on local happenings help me feel "in the loop."
* Routine. Going to the drycleaner, grocery, local restaurants etc and getting familiar with the faces, if not the names, of the people who work there.
* Friends (again) - have people over for dinner, go out to events with them, etc.
* Time. Really, this is a problem that will eventually solve itself, as long as you keep reaching out and exploring. It takes at least a year in my experience. Use that year to build layers of memories in your new home-town, and be patient.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 10:10 AM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

For me, feeling at ease in the neighborhood plays a huge part. Not necessarily doing a whole lot of activities, but just walking around the block and seeing the houses and knowing where the nearest coffee shop (or whatever) is. Paying a little bit more attention to your surroundings during your daily routine can also help acclimate you to the small details that will signal home: here's that hill just before the house, there's the neighbor's car, etc.

Meeting the neighborhood cats helps me, too, but I'm a cat person.

And a lot of it really is time. You can't really avoid or speed up those couple months where you feel uprooted; you just have to keep reminding yourself that you're in the process of putting down new roots and the discomfort will pass eventually.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:18 AM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

For me it's partly making some friends to interact with on a regular basis and partly having all my "regular" providers in place: beautician, doctor, dentist, optometrist, etc. I've felt at home quickly in my current location thanks to having a friendly, tight-knit bunch of neighbors who included us in neighborhood events and made recommendations of who to see and where to go when I was shopping for providers.
posted by summerstorm at 10:44 AM on December 26, 2015

Paradoxically: go away for a weekend, or at least an overnight, someplace you've never been before. When you come back, you'll have the sense of returning somewhere familiar.

Also, become a regular at a cafe, pub, or restaurant near where you live.
posted by rpfields at 12:35 PM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

What rpfields said; leave and come home again whenever possible, even for shorter periods. Don’t go to your old home whenever you leave.
posted by bongo_x at 12:44 PM on December 26, 2015

I'll echo what hydropsyche said and add that I needed to discover the UU Society to find a church that met those goals while best matching my values. As a pretty archetypical mefite, that may help your search.
posted by meinvt at 2:57 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter's own Charles Stross lives in Edinburgh and has a blog, where he occasionally shares things about living there.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:17 PM on December 26, 2015

For me, knowing the area like the back of hand is part of it. And normally that takes time, and driving around doesn't really cut it like walking or cycling does.

So I spend a lot of time in Google Earth or Google Maps (satellite view and street view) just zooming in and around to learn the streets and beyond and spot the kind of oddities that would take years accumulate otherwise, and build a really good familiarity and mental map of the area.

While I do that I'm always on the lookout for anything or anywhere that looks interesting or curious, then at some point I'll visit on foot or on bike (or drive if it makes sense to). Either an expedition exploring the new area, or a detour on the way home from something I had to do anything.

It helps to have some tasks or projects in mind too while scouring google maps - maybe you're trying to figure out a good route for a run, or maybe you're looking for anything that would make for great photography, or maybe a trail for a hike or mountain bike, or...

In google Earth, with the right settings you can also see photos that other people have taken of places. This can really highlight some secrets that only the locals know and give some insight into what things the resident's think is worthy of attention. Alternatively it can show you where the tourist hotspots are, depending on your area.
posted by anonymisc at 5:55 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm going through this right now, too, for the first time in well over a decade. The big things that usually help and are starting to help now:

*Get a library card, spend lots of time at the local library (and take the toddler!)
*Follow local papers, blogs, groups relevant to your interest on social media
*Take a few different routes to work, even if it's as minor as walking down one street instead of another to get between home and the transit station or the parking garage and your office. I lived in my last city for several years before discovering the amazing hole-in-the-wall restaurant that was literally three blocks from my office because I'd always taken the exact same route when I left!
*As you're searching for your local hangouts/regular stops (coffee shops, bars, neighborhood markets), talk to the people who work there and get to know them, and they'll start to get to know you. Nothing makes a place feel like home like being recognized as a regular around the neighborhood
*Pick a food you really like (coffee, ice cream, ramen, wings, whatever) and start a quest for the best of that thing in your area
*If it's a public transit-friendly area, pick somewhere to go on the weekend that's a little farther out and take transit there
*If you are even a little bit politically inclined, or if you own a home there, start learning a little bit about local politics, particularly the upcoming votes on things that will affect you as a resident. I don't own property here, but as a cyclist I try to get to know the urban infrastructure issues as soon as I get to a new place. Which brings me to...
* places! To the grocery store or the pub or the park. It gives you a very different and very intimate perspective on your city.
*Have friends or family visit and take them around to the places you've discovered already

Best of luck in your new home!
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:16 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Without fail it takes me two years to feel at home in a new city and at around 3-6 months there's a pretty strong lonely feeling that I need to work to overcome. Here are the things that make me feel comfortable in it until it feels like home:

As mentioned above, become a regular somewhere. Ideally two or three somewheres. Coffee shop, restaurant, bar, etc. Local ones and not a chain. They don't have to be the best, your goal isn't to get the greatest cup of coffee, but to get a familiar cup of coffee. Learn the names of the staff and try to go on the same days of the week at the same time. Have a regular order so the staff can get to know you too.

Pick a specific day of the week as the Something New Day. I like to do it early in the week so it's less crowded and more likely to interact with locals and regulars instead of a crowd of people in a hurry, but you might enjoy weekends more. Here's how it works: One of you picks a type of thing (restaraunt, bar, park, museum, mall, whatever) and the other one picks three possibilities that you've never been to before. Each of you discards one and you go/do to the remaining one. You'll have picked something you both want to do (or at least won't hate) and you'll quickly broaden your knowledge about the area.

If you drive there, one person drive and the other navigate, picking roads you've never used before. If it's a walking city, don't take the most direct route. Go early and walk around the area. See what you can guess about the neighborhood from the little cues. (What kind of cars are common here, what kind of security, how old are the trees, buildings, and streets. How common are public garbage cans, etc.)

Find the local news outlet that you like (or tolerate) and make it a part of your daily routine. Talk about the news with people to get the local's opinion on things.
posted by Ookseer at 7:30 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah definitely become a regular at places. For example, as part of my routine, I get a cold soda in the morning to take into work with me. I stop at the same gas station on the way in, see the same people. And it's a nice dose of regularity to know that one of them is going to hassle me for not registering my loyalty card, the other's going to ask me about work, etc.

Even if it's not all Cheers-y, building a roster of regular spots (this is My Dry Cleaner, this is The Bookstore Cafe I Go Hang Out At, etc.) can be very grounding to me.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:59 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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