Sunday, April 6, 2008

Wearing your travel well

DSC05829 We're wrapping up a few days in Paris: 'did the major sights that a first-time visitor wants to do (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame) and the major shopping that girls want to try (Galeries Lafayette, St. Germaine). Along the way, they've learned how to pay for a Metro ride, count change in Euros, order still or gas water, and all of the countless other bits of everyday life.

And there is a lot of it. When I handed over the department to a new research director, I set up an hour a day that I could answer questions. So many were procedural: the countless bits of arcane process knowledge about what form to use, who to call, what to report, when, how... It was a bit embarrassing, 'so much worthless knowledge thoughtlessly accumulated about how things get done in a company. But it's simply how everyday life happens.

DSC05785 Similarly, reflecting on the girls, in becoming part of a new culture.

Some travelers prepare for a trip by reading a guidebook, others prefer to see things fresh and not do any background preparation at all. The "sophisticated" traveler reads history and journals, perhaps talks with expatriates or natives, before going: they are the (tiring) ones who can tell you the origin and meaning of the exact shade of blue in a Moorish mosaic.

Then there are travelers who've lived in a different culture until it just all becomes background. No less wonderful or exciting, but as an expatriate, it just becomes everyday-normal.

And I don't realize it until I share the experiences of life here with friends or family back 'home'.

It's a bit like having a coat from Galeries Lafayette. The naive person thinks about appeal and price; the 'sophisticate' can talk about style and craftsmanship. But an expatriate has wears the coat and ceases to notice it.

As I tour with the girls, I realize how much I've become accustomed to the culture here, assimilating the everyday practices and signposts that allow me to live in my adopted country. Sure, along the way, I learn the history and customs, know something, finally, of the food and art.

But its knowing 'not to add tax and avoid stamps at the checkout', 'how to cook with witlof', and 'how to use a chipknip' that says to me that I've really grown into a culture, rather than simply traveling through it.


TextualHealing said...

But one culture or several? To a European there's a huge difference in the way that, say French and Dutch people live (with of course different languages - though no longer currencies). Are there common aspects of European culture that North Americans see that we don't because we are so close to them ourselves?

Dave Hampton said...

I've thought about your comment a lot over the past few days, and I'd like to expand on it a bit in a post today.

Thanks for the observation; it's a good one and it made me think!