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Your life is exotic to someone else

After the plane ride and the metro ride and the bus ride, I drove my car home the final leg from traveling abroad. I waited at a stoplight next to the Fresh Market, a local grocery store. I gazed at the green glow of the sign spelling out the store’s name and thought, If I were from France, that supermarket would be totally exotic. If I were a tourist in America, I would want to walk inside and take pictures of the labels on the chocolates. I’d want to gawk at the strange American foods that they don’t make in other countries, just like I was fascinated by prawn sandwiches in London.

When I was walking around my city in the following weeks, I looked at every single statue or fountain or old building and thought, If I were from Britain, I would have to snap a digital photo of that. As a rule, when I was overseas I took a picture of every piece of statuary or art or plain old engraved boulder, just because I was in a foreign country and those things looked like culture.

It is odd to think that my life is exotic to someone else, just as it must seem odd to foreigners that I find their lives exotic too. Everything that is familiar to me is odd to someone else.

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23 Comments

Margaret • June 26, 2009 at 10:29 am

I moved to Scotland last year and I was gawking and taking pictures of everything for months (I still do when I travel outside my current city!!).

A month ago, my boyfriend (who is scottish) came on a trip with me back to Canada – it was really funny / amusing to see him take pictures of everything especially what I would have considered ugly houses!! He had never seen anything like them before!

Thankfully, we’re not the only ones taking photos on holiday!!

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petunia • June 26, 2009 at 10:43 am

It’s true.

One of my Live Journal friends from Spain was coming to the West Coast and I was traveling to there. Both of us took tons of SUPERMARKET photos! Yes, something so banal can be fascinating.

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nazilam • June 26, 2009 at 11:06 am

Beautifully said.

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Lana • June 26, 2009 at 11:31 am

I think that’s one of the most wonderful things about travel–how it changes you even after you get home, and allow you to see your world (and by extension then the whole world) in a different light. To step outside yourself and see new perspectives on everything you know.

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Susan • June 26, 2009 at 12:15 pm

I came to that realization when we were in Italy on the Amalfi Coast a few years ago. There we were, oohhhing and aahhing at the beautiful scenery, and at one of the points where we stopped to take some photographs there was a woman out on her balcony hanging out her laundry. It hit me then that this was her daily view, and she probably didn’t even notice it any more.

I try to keep that in mind when I’m all but ignoring the beautiful mountain views around Banff (about an hour away). This is a popular destination for tourists, and I hardly notice it.

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Lainey • June 26, 2009 at 12:43 pm

^Aw, Banff has nothing on some of the other areas of Alberta…like the Crowsnest Pass, where I’m from. :D

There’s this place there called the Frank Slide, where a mountain fell down, and there are boulders everywhere. It’s bizarre to most people, but perfectly normal to me. In fact, when I was a kid I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t clean up all those boulders and use the space for an amusement park! LOL!

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Rebecca Hoover • June 26, 2009 at 12:46 pm

That’s why I try to appreciate where I live. People actually come to Tucson to vacation so I try to take the time and enjoy my city as well.

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harmony • June 26, 2009 at 1:15 pm

My sister and I spent 9 weeks in Europe about 10 years ago. When we got home, we found ourselves grabbing brochures at coffeehouses because they would be awesome in our travel journals, or walking down the street in our own city reaching for the camera to take a picture of two interesting buildings or a church spire. I loved feeling like my own place had become a novelty. I appreciated it more after that.

Reading your entry, I nodded along the whole time. I remember! That’s just how it was! Thanks for reminding me.

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Quix • June 26, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Sometimes I’ll look at what I wrote about my weekend plans and think, “Geez, I would have thought I was so cool 3 years ago when my only weekend plans involved a computer and leaving the house as few times as I could”. So sometimes our lives are even exotic to us!

Later this summer we are going to do a “staycation” where we live it up at a nice hotel downtown and visit some of the touristy things we’ve missed out on (but since we don’t have to spend money on travel, it’s cheap!). Guarantee I’ll be snapping pictures then like a tourist!

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Robin • June 26, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Prawn sandwiches?? That’s crazy!

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Cindy • June 26, 2009 at 9:26 pm

I just came home from NYC (I’m from Boston) and it felt like I had traveled to some exotic place (not just an hour’s plane ride!). I only saw Manhattan, but it was big enough and different enough to seem very new and strange. I loved nearly every minute of it (except the first few minutes in Manhattan when I got kicked off a sidewalk outside Grand Central Station ~ apparently it belonged to some fancy company that I can’t remember the name… definitely not a welcoming moment to the big apple!). The rest of my stay was awesome and people were very friendly and accommodating and helpful. I stayed at a hostel in Harlem and the people there were lovely (my first hostel experience and it was a great one!). The locals in Harlem were terrific and willingly pointed me in the right direction every time I needed guidance (including the guy on the subway who laughed at me when I panicked, discovering that I was on an express train the whizzed by my stop. When he finished laughing at me, he carefully explained how I could get to my destination and told me where NOT to walk in that neighborhood ~ a very helpful hint!).

Somehow the locals knew I wasn’t from around there, and it wasn’t just the color of my skin, as Harlem is fairly integrated in parts. More than once I had people holler down from their stoop, wishing me a safe journey home, blessing me, telling me to enjoy their city, etc… Did I have tourist plastered on my forehead?! Clearly I didn’t walk like a New Yorker, or something…

I LOVED Central Park and would consider moving to NYC just to have access to Central Park. There are woods, waterfalls, gardens, etc… along with all the touristy stuff (and, yes, the myriad collection of statuary). IT was lovely, lovely, lovely and I felt perfectly safe everywhere I went in the park. In fact, I felt pretty darned safe everywhere I went in New York, except down towards the Chinatown area on my way to the Children’s Museum of Art. The street vendors and store clerks around there were hustlers and tried to engage you from the street, enticing you off the sidewalk and into the stores when you were just trying to walk by. They were mean-looking and I was very uncomfortable (more uncomfortable than walking back through Harlem at midnight after coming home on the subway from seeing “Mama Mia.” Great show, by the way. You should definitely see it if you get the chance!).

That’s a very long way of saying that you don’t have to travel very far from home to feel exotic. I can’t wait to have another travel experience, since this one worked out so well.

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Sarah • June 27, 2009 at 4:39 am

A book you might like: “The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton. Your ideas on the “exotic” match his exactly!

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Sandy • June 27, 2009 at 1:06 pm

So true — the Colorado Lottery even plays on this with some of their ads –

first screen: mountains – caption says for most people this is a vacation

second screen: more mountains – and you live here

third screen: even more mountains – and you say you are not lucky?

When we moved here 17 years ago we wondered how long it would be before we stopped “seeing” these things. I will admit that although they haven’t totally faded into “background” I certainly am not as amazed by them.

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RG • June 27, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Well, that might not be as true as you think. When you were describing the food in London, my reaction was mostly “hunh, that’s pretty common in DC”. Every city may have its own specialties, but I think you were noticing the difference between small-town and big city for the most part. I spent a few months having moved from DC to a small town in US, having people think everything I ate was “weird” or “exotic”, where my reaction was “really? you’ve never heard of black bean dip? that didn’t go mainstream 15 years ago?” Which was clue I wouldn’t be happy in a small town. Not much struck me as exotic in exchange.

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PastaQueen • June 27, 2009 at 4:02 pm

@RG – That is a good theory, but Indianapolis is the 14th largest city in the US, so I wouldn’t exactly call it a small town. It’s Midwestern, and there is a lot of corn in Indiana, but the Indianapolis area is home to at least three quarters of a million people.

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Nina • June 27, 2009 at 10:40 pm

I always feel so special when those double decker tour buses rumble past me. As though of course people that want to see NYC will find me on my way to the subway absolutely fascinating!

I do love a double decker bus tour!

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MizFit • June 28, 2009 at 7:07 am

I used to always tell my clients we are ALL, every one of us, someones goal weight.

(now its we are all someones Jillian Michaels :) even I can change with the times…)

it’s pretty amazing and very true.

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mad folly • June 28, 2009 at 7:46 am

So true. I’m living in London now, and before that Los Angeles for two decades, but whenever I return to Indiana I’m always amazed at the history and nature and beauty all around.

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jkd • June 28, 2009 at 10:44 am

No matter how much/where I travel abroad, I never get tired of checking out foreign food labeling, even/especially on familiar US products. Seeing an Arabic sign on a KFC at the train station in Marrakesh last month was truly surreal (and yep, I took a picture, but no, I didn’t eat there). I couldn’t decide whether it was funny or sad.

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Lisa • June 28, 2009 at 4:21 pm

As an American expat (immigrant? it’s been 10 years) living in Europe I can say from experience it’s also true that one can be walking down the street in a foreign place and think to yourself “Oh, look at that exotic grocery!”, run in with your camera to check it out, and end up thinking to yourself smugly “Wow they do it *so* much better at home!” Not all the time, but it happens. ;)

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gfe--gluten free easily • June 28, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Traveling definitely gives you different perspecives on your own world. Sometimes it’s the photos of everyday life we witness while traveling that are the most compelling. And, interestingly enough, it’s also seeing how our “culture” has expanded to other countries that surprises us. Like the KFC in Grand Cayman last summer with the huge statue of Colonel Sanders outside its door. Neither hubby nor I wanted our picture taken with him, but I did snap a shot. LOL

Shirley

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boots • June 29, 2009 at 10:50 am

@Cindy – I recently moved out of New York and just wanted to comment on your Chinatown experience. Shopping there has gotten deeply weird…people go there to buy decent-looking fake versions of designer purses, watches, etc. It’s illegal to sell fake copies of designer goods and in the last few years the city has really been cracking down on it (police, secret shoppers), so I think that’s why there’s so much “Psst…you want a Gucci handbag? Follow this guy down an alley and up to a creepy 5th-floor loft.” It does feel a bit like they’re going to knock you out and sell your organs!

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jenn • July 1, 2009 at 9:54 am

This is so funny. I think this ALL THE TIME. The other day I was thinking about this in Lowes. I’m sure Mars size hardware stores must exist in other countries but I’ve never been to one. I started thinking about what it would be like if I were a tourist from another country. Not sure why I’d be spending vacation time in a hardware store unless my suitcase lost a wheel but that besides the point. There must have been 100 choices of grills. It’s so crazy.

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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