There is a sometimes disconcerting change that happens to a foreigner who remains in a place long. The color and novelties of a culture, the satisfaction of noticing the small ways of doing things that are different to one’s own, during what Hemingway called the “spectacle stage of appreciation”, are replaced by the an ever-growing saturation of practicality and expertise, a maturing, deeper knowledge of the host culture that slowly renders the childlike traveler into a grownup.
At times remaining stationary dulls the wonder and euphoria that travelers relish, but if he or she is smart, it can add weight to a story, or to the creation of fiction; it can add depth and credibility to a character sketch, and knowledge earned from a bit of sendentariness should be embraced. A more keen eye can spot cliché and stereotype. Humor can be uncovered that is a smarter and more satisfying humor, even if understood by an ever-shrinking audience (i.e. at least marginally observant bilingual people). I always walk a fine line between moaning and cultural exploration. I find there a rich environment for exposing the ridiculous while maintaining respect and admiration. It is a challenge that is stimulating.
Christopher Hitchens said that he kept and read “two sets of books,” meaning he fed from divergent points of view to enrich his knowledge of the world around him. I seem to have always been stuck on the idea that novelty is the key to understanding the world, or at least the key to maintaining the desire to understand the world. But as I become more rooted in this country, I still always feel like a foreigner here, in varying degrees, and it is rarely a bad thing.
My “two sets of books” entail both a search for material that supports my already formed opinion, and my openness to things that I would not normally embrace automatically, things or people that I simply do not understand. Because there is usually some surprising enlightenment on the other side, a side which may be covered in decidedly less-green grass. Unless it is boring, I don’t consider mingling with the strange and unconventional, which can also be the overtly traditional, a waste of my time. No, staying in one place hinders neither my craving for adventure and true world knowledge nor my ability to pursue it.