My new hairdresser Rachel says being in Cardiff is like ‘coming home’. She does have Welsh parents so it may not, on the face of it, seem that strange. But the twist is that she had never lived in Cardiff or Wales before – she was born and bred in Surrey – and had, until a year ago, felt she belonged there.
So what is it that makes a place feel like home? And how is it that I myself already feel at home despite only living in the Welsh capital for three weeks? Is Cardiff special in this respect? Or is this connection a reflection of an ever transient and mobile population that settles wherever it lays its hat?
The simplistic definition of home is a place where one lives. In that respect most of us are lucky enough to have a home. But, to feel at home suggests more of a connection – somewhere you can relate to; where you feel happy or safe. An anthropologist might tell you it has to do with a sense of identity, culture, kinship, social relations, politics or economics. It could even be simply a state of mind or a collective attitude in a moment in time.
Rachel puts it more simply: “It’s just so friendly. Everyone is so nice here. It doesn’t seem like a city. It’s more like a close community.” And I have heard these sentiments repeated several times by various shop keepers, residents and students. This friendliness between relative strangers linked only by their geographical location could stem from Cardiff’s long history of a disparate and constantly shifting population.
Cardiff’s development as a strategic port, city and capital has meant it has been home to a rich mix of people for many centuries. People from different backgrounds have brought with them a mosaic of cultural influences, languages, religions and politics.
In this respect Cardiff does not differ to any other large city. But, unlike other places I have known, it seems to have maintained its proud Welsh core, and yet also created its own hybrid identity and cultural heritage to which its shifting population can continually relate. This balance could be the key to Cardiff’s ability to take in and welcome those who enter its city walls. Its tradition of a transient population seems to have created a way for those within the city at any given time to not only have a home there, but to feel at home.
It seems Cardiff – whose name describes its defensive river fort – is not protective in a resistant way, but is protective in its welcoming, friendly acceptance.
Through the centuries, more and more people have laid their hats in Cardiff – whether they be Roman helmets, Welsh stove pipes or Islamic kufies. And for many it seems that’s their home.