Brands can make you feel at home even when you are stranded abroad
Many hundreds of thousands of stranded travellers across the world have started to return home as air carriers resume their regular flight services today following the volcanic eruptions in Iceland and the resulting ash clouds. The news and press have depicted scenes of anguish; weary travellers longing to be back at home where they belong, where things make sense.
This forced separation reminded me of my early years as a reluctant expatriate over 30 years ago. As the son of a UK diplomat I hopped from country to country every 3 years. Only at the age of 8, when I was sent to boarding school in Oxford, was I able to properly immerse myself in a culture in which I felt I belonged. My father was working in the Middle East at the time, a region I have subsequently worked in and of which I have many treasured memories. But it was never home save for the tiny reminders we had of our forgotten land: Marmite, a monthly copy of The Beano sent by diplomatic bag, football scores read out by the BBC World Service on a crackly wireless.
The Welsh sing of Hiraeth – a longing to return to their spiritual home. A word that has no direct translation in English but which is deeply and emotionally engrained in all those that truly love and belong to Wales.
As I touched down in the late 1970’s as a young school boy I was struck by the contrast of the UK to the country my parents were living in at the time. In the UK, for instance, the post boxes, buses and telephone kiosks were the same colour, they had a similar symmetry and a regimental, colonial order to them. This wasn’t better or worse than the country I was flying in from – just different. But it felt like I was coming home and quenched my longing.
I wonder what today’s returning citizens will feel as they return home. The traditional London Routemaster double-decker buses have since been replaced by Volvos or generic long, bendy equivalents seen across cities in Europe and the world over, save for a few tourist trails. The same goes for the red telephone box.
Perhaps in an homogenised world (with identikit franchises, global brands and instant communications) it’s easier to feel at home, whatever your nationality, even when you are stranded abroad. But setting aside the commercial reasons, it’s difficult not to feel that some of your national identity, wherever you call home, might have been eroded in the process.
In: Brand Experience, Viewpoints · Tags: Marmite, Routemaster, The Beano