New Things

Here’s the thing: I don’t actually love new things. Not really.

I still do them all the time; I’ve got this huge list of cool stuff I’ve tried over the years, and obviously there was a first time for everything. Being in a city is all about new and different. We travel when we get a chance. I’ve worked a bunch of places. I like habit, but an outsider might not realize it, based on the evidence.

There’s a quote I’ve seen floating around from a few different writers: “I don’t like writing; I like having written.” I think it’s the same for me with new experiences: I like traveling to that new country, eating at that new restaurant, watching that new show, playing that new game, talking to that new person, because once you’ve tried it, it’s familiar. It’s not new or scary anymore. And the more stuff you try, the more places you go or things you experience, the more of the world is no longer scary.

We experienced this just about every night on our recent trip to Portugal. You sit down to dinner, not knowing at first if you’re dressed appropriately, if the menu is going to be reasonable, if the waiter will speak any English or be able to understand your pidgin Portuguese, if they’re going to take Visa and how much you should tip. But by halfway through, you’ve ordered, the food is great (even if the shrimp are served with the heads still on and “cocktail sauce” apparently means “mayonnaise”), you’ve found that you can communicate just fine, you’ve found a reasonable wine that is pretty good and you’re just as relaxed as you would be at the place down the street back home, where you’re almost a regular. More relaxed, in some ways, because you’ve overcome a challenge–a small challenge, not like negotiating a lasting peace in the Middle East, but something harder than hiding under the covers at the hotel and gnawing on Swedish fish and Pringles.

The other thing is that, a lot of the time, on vacation, you only get one shot at visiting a given spot. It’s exponentially more relaxing to become a repeat visitor: we made a point, one day, to go back to the little town where we’d gone for dinner and drinks two nights prior, and we sat at the same little corner cafe, had the same smiling waitress bringing us pints of Sagres, knew we had enough euro, and that the ATM was right across the street if we ran into problems.

I’ve read that chain restaurants are successful because they capitalize on similar emotions: no need to brave that greasy spoon, because a Big Mac is a Big Mac. So maybe it’s not just me. But I think it’s possible to strike a balance between the familiar and the not-yet-familiar, with the understanding that everything new eventually brings comfort in a place no longer so alien.

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One Response to New Things

  1. jim says:

    I feel the same way. It is easier to sit a restaurant you’ve been to before. You know what to expect. I wonder how many good meals I missed out on because I took the familiar instead of the new. Same with social situations. When I meet new people in a social situation it is always slightly uncomfortable but less than when I was younger. Our upcoming cruise makes me slightly nervous because of having to sit with strangers for meals. So much more comfortable with just my significant other.

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