Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

The Trap of Becoming a Local

Here I am back in Melbourne. I’m back at the hostel where I’ve spent a month. I’m near the market I know for cheap food, walking distance from the library and its air conditioning and wifi. I have a kitchen and a bed, showers and a familiar system. And so I sink in. The days start to blend together.

When you have a short time, you attack it with vigor. When my sister and I had only 24 hours in Rome, we mapped it out and put forward a good campaign: Vatican museum, St. Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, stops for gelato any time we needed a toilet, pasta dinner, local wine, Trevi again at night, the coliseum during the day and at night. I’ve been in Melbourne for nearly six weeks now and I’ve seen fewer “sights” than in Rome.

I dived in to life here as if I was a resident. One of the things seasoned travelers will tell you is that you need to see a place through the eyes of a local, not just hit the tourist spots but really get into the feel of a location. What they don’t tell you is that it is a double edged sword. Maybe they don’t realize it. It wasn’t until here that I truly appreciated the other side of the coin.

Have you ever talked with someone who has visited your city only to find out they’ve seen things there that you haven’t? I’ve lived around DC for 26 years and I’ve never been in the Washington Monument. And half the museums I’ve seen I entered because a visitor from out of town who I was hosting wanted to see them. Sure I can tell you where some good bars are and some good views that aren’t on the tourist circuit. But I can also tell you about how to drive the same route to and from work for weeks on end, not going out, not seeing anything new, about spending hours near such a glorious city, sequestered inside watching reruns of sitcoms I wasn’t particularly into when they came out.

Well-connected locals know some really good places for a range of things and can be most helpful. Most locals will at least know a couple good options for specific things that suit them, and if what you’re looking for lines up, they can be of use. But diving headfirst into a new location, of taking it on as your new – if temporary – home, means not just learning where the good place to get cheap and delicious food is. It means setting up routines. It means finding some comforts in the familiar.

And the comforts of home, even if it isn’t the home you knew, are a drug.

I’m not on the road to find comfort. I’m here to experience new things. And a new perspective is part of that. Seeing how other cultures operate and making friends with new people, getting fresh ideas and figuring out how to operate in new environments, it is all part of the education and experience. But there is always the danger, as this city is teaching me, of falling in too deep. Of becoming not just a local, but a jaded and overly-familiar cog.

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This entry was posted on February 7, 2012 by in Australia, Self Analysis, Victoria (Melbourne).

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