I’ve recently toyed with the idea of moving outside of the USA, and I’ve had brief tastes of what it would be like. I’ve spent a month in China, Singapore, and most recently, Europe. However, one month does not an expat make. In each of those locales, I made it a point to immerse myself as a local, especially in Europe. Staying in Go with Oh apartments and hanging out with locals certainly helped in that regard.
In a couple of weeks I’ll return to Europe, and it got me thinking about some of the things I’ve missed since my return to Texas, the first being the terminology. Sometimes I forget that the United States did not invent English that, in fact, it was England who gave us the language. Despite that arrogant statement, some terminology from British English has actually stuck with me.
I will no longer go on vacation. Instead, I will forever be on holiday. Standing in line is a thing of the past as well. From now on it is referred to as queuing. My food is now for take away and not to go. I no longer look for an inexpensive car rental, but rather cheap car hire. I don’t like something, now I fancy it. I am also working on the transition from parking lot to car park. I think car park seems like it would be a more pleasant place for my car to reside. And let’s face it, the happier my car is, the less likely I am to have trouble with it. As much as I like British English, you’ll never catch me referring to my trunk as a boot. That’s just weird for this Texan. Boots belong on your feet.
Along with my custom-made marionette from Prague, Louis Vuitton from Paris, and the new vocabulary words I brought home, I wish that I could take with me the ease of getting around. Europe is filled with great walking cities, something that is rare in the land of bigger is better. One doesn’t really walk places in Texas, which probably adds to our high obesity rate. If we want to go somewhere in Texas then it’s in our own cars.
Then there’s the subway and trains in Europe. They must have the best system in the world, even with the pushy gypsies that want to “help” with your luggage. I love riding a train; I do some of my best thinking on a train. I also adore driving, but quite frankly, sometimes I get tired of it. How nice would it be to have taxis readily available? I certainly miss the ease of stepping outside of my door and hailing a cab.
I think being in a new places with different cultures forces us to pay attention to our surroundings. Really, what’s the use in traveling if only to stay in one’s comfort zone? I think we become desensitized with our normal surroundings and thus take so many things for granted.
I’m reminded of this every time I visit the Galleria in Houston. Thousands of people walk around with their mouths agape, neck craned, and eyes wide. Meanwhile, I’m frustrated because I can’t get to J. Crew fast enough. I imagine that is how I look to the locals in Europe, but I find newness around every corner. Something as simple as a visit to a market is a glimpse into the local culture. That is a very important part of travel for me.
I was again reminded of this when a European friend came to visit me in Houston and we took a road trip to New Orleans over Christmas. Her eyes were opened to a world of things she’d never encountered, stuff that is simply old hat to me. In fact, I made of list of everything new she tried and/or noticed. From breakfast kolaches to boudin to chicken fried steak to mint juleps to crawfish to giant bottles of ketchup, she reminded me that Europe doesn’t have the monopoly on totally awesome things.
I’ve said it before, but I need to become a tourist in my own city; it’s the fourth largest in the nation, for crying out loud. As great as Europe and Asia and South America or wherever may be, there are still countless things that I have not experienced in my neck-of-the-woods just because they might not be deemed “exotic” or “exciting” enough. I can’t always be somewhere else, so I should take advantage of what’s right in front of me.
In reference to living in the now, Jerry Spinelli wrote, “You’re cheating yourself out of today. Today is calling to you, trying to get your attention, but you’re stuck on tomorrow, and today trickles away like water down a drain. You wake up the next morning and that today you wasted is gone forever. It’s now yesterday. Some of those moments may have had wonderful things in store for you, but now you’ll never know.”
There could be the things that I love about Europe in my own backyard. Maybe there are markets where I can find fabulous treasures. Perhaps I can learn to navigate the Light Rail in Houston. Certainly I can take advantage of the countless multicultural experiences that the city offers. Although, I’ll have to drive there, find a car park, and stand in a queue.
Hey, when in Rome,er, I mean, Houston.