The delight is in the detail

Image by Kit, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image by Kit, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

I was talking to my friend, Alex Cass, last weekend, about being an international child. Culture hopping, as you grow up. There’s an enormous amount that can be said about it, and I should really make this into a much longer post, or two, examining the rise of said citizenry, how we fared compared to previous generations, etc. I’m fascinated by the affects being raised in such a way has on a person, and, even more so, on how those people then go on to effect the world; what movements have been caused in culture, politics, thinking, civilisation, by the fact that the ex-pat life exploded in the 60s and 70s (and did it, or is that just my perception?) and produced a generation of kids (from both traditionally privileged and traditionally non-privileged) backgrounds that were more nation-less, more internationally experienced, less bound/supported by older family, than any that had come before it?

But I’m tired today. For tired, you can read ‘lazy’. I am. But either way.

So instead here’s a much shorter one, on the same theme.

When I go travelling, it’s not the big things that delight me. Standing in front of the Eiffel Tower is glorious, yes (although it is partly only so because of the layers and layers of significance that it now has. Is that the right way of expressing it? I mean that it is now so much more than the building, ridiculously so. It’s a signifier, for an enormous amount, in our consciousness), but it’ll be the napkin dispenser in the local cafe down the street from it that makes me hug myself inside. The thing that’s completely unique to me, as the alien, and completely mundane to the native. People expect – whether they feel positive about it or not – visitors to pay attention to the Eiffel Tower – whether they positive about it or not. I like the small differences, the ones that no-one mentions in guide books, or puts on ‘must experience’ lists. They’re the ones that make me feel like the whole world has just shifted, slightly, to the left; the ones that make the vastness and the ridiculous intimacy of being a human on this planet come into sudden, sharp focus.

To be clear, this doesn’t make me think I’m more special than others; I know I’m not Amelie. Sometimes I wish I could achieve the same perspective with the big things. It would make achieving that travel high a lot easier (and that’s a whole other post).

(The reason I think this is all the same theme, btw, is that I think I have this point of view *because* I was raised in lots of different countries. I’m a weird mix of significant privilege and ‘exposed to a lot of non-privilege at a young age’ – yet another post – which means I’ve been lucky enough to see a wide range of things, on lots of different scales. Enough to make those scales, the big ones, normal. Which means it’s the small ones, where the detail is, that catch my attention the most.) So, in NZ, it’s not the vast amount of greenery that makes me catch my breath. Or the fact that the ocean water is clear. Or the difference in accent. Or handling different currency. Or different TV channels, unfamiliar weather, strange animals- that make me smile.

It’s:
– a billboard on the way into Wellington that says “Need help? Eat kelp.” A public service notice. I received a strange look from the Kiwi driving me when I laughed for about a minute at this.
– the sign in the supermarket car park that says ‘Place your trundles here.’
– sushi is their fish & chips (everywhere, cheap. Cheap as…).
– the beach littered with driftwood. Beautiful driftwood. Huge pieces of driftwood. Surplus to the point that kids don’t build sandcastles, but driftwood houses, with their afternoons. Ridiculous, vast amounts of driftwood THAT YOU’D PAY HUNDREDS OF POUNDS FOR A SINGLE PIECE OF IN THE UK.
– pies are sold in McDonald’s. As a matter of course. In fact, this weekend I saw a kebab shop in Wellington that had ‘kebab pie’ on its menu.
– instead of a country that builds its brick homes to stand the cold, and then spends a few months every year sweltering, with the windows wide open, a country that builds its wooden homes to cater for the sun, and then uses little electric heaters when winter hits. Ridiculous electricity bills here. Crazy. Alex wears her dressing gown over her clothes, as a matter of course; I waited ages for her to get dressed one day, whilst she was waiting for me to finish reading a book. It’s just what she wears in her house, for a few months every year.
– a fruit called a fijoa. Which sounds a little like a name for your vagina. Because I’m 9.
– the fact that groceries and dining out are more expensive than the UK, but wine and takeout are significantly cheaper. – even the shower bracket in the YHA, on my first night. I couldn’t get the shower head to stay upright in it, so assumed it was broken, and did a wedging thing with the wall which worked long enough for me to wash my hair. I came back to the same shower the next morning, and someone had clearly found the head wedged against the wall, thought ‘WTF?’, turned the bracket it fits into the 90 degrees it needed to turn for the entire thing to work – a position you’d *never* see a shower bracket in in Europe, so I hadn’t even *tried* it that way – and put the shower head back. I laughed out loud. It’s a reminder; things aren’t the same everywhere. You’re thinking the same things, in the same way, without even realising you’re doing it. Think differently.

It’s in those moments that the world suddenly gets bigger, for me. With shower brackets. It’s odd, but I love it.

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