The problem with permanence (1)There’s something that happens when you move abroad. In the beginning you throw yourself into your new home and get to know the place – doing all of the things a tourist would do and savouring the new experiences. Then somewhere along the line a switch goes off. You start to build your home in this place and before you know it, you want to completely disassociate yourself from the tourists (insert obligatory eye roll here) – heaven forbid you be mistaken for a tourist!

On my trip back to France this year, I was quickly reminded of this feeling within only a day or two of being back. A longing to fit in and be seen as French in my French surroundings.

And I remembered all the ways I used to do this when I first lived in France.

The way I never tried to let anyone know that English was my first language. I would speak in French, read French novels on the metro and sometimes even ignore calls from my English-speaking friends when I was in public (sorry guys!).

I would walk quickly for the metro, hurry past tourists taking their time and strolling along the Rue de Rivoli, and roll my eyes as they talked excitedly and took hundreds of photos in front of the epically beautiful buildings that had become part of my everyday existence.

I would do anything and everything to avoid looking like a tourist.

So what was this really about?

What is so wrong with tourists after all?

The truth is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with tourists (well you know, the culturally respectful ones that is). What could be better than a group of people who are excited about discovering a new place, taking the time to look around, soak it in, explore and try to figure out how things work in this unfamiliar world.

And I realised that the issue I had with not wanting to look like a tourist was tied to an undeniable human desire to want to belong and be one of the cool kids who knows the lay of the land. Someone who knows the rules, knows how it all works, knows the best places to go and is confident in their surroundings. Someone in the know.

It’s kinda like being in high school – as soon as you’ve made it through that first year, you never look back and you sure as hell don’t want to be confused for a 7th grader (or a freshman, or whatever your country’s equivalent is of the first year in high school).

So it seems to me that the problem is linked to our discomfort with being a beginner – with not knowing what we’re doing and being afraid of making a mistake or looking stupid. Starting out at anything new is usually an awkward time of trial and error. Of figuring out what works and what doesn’t and risking looking like a fool if – make that when – we fail.

And yet, beginners mind is one of the best things we can embrace. That place in us that is pure. Without knowledge. Without assumptions. Without cynicism. Ready to experience something new. Ready to grow. Ready to be fully present and really see something for what it is. The curious mind in us that wants to know everything about a subject or a place and how it works. The mind that is teachable. The mind that is humble.

So let’s get rid of this need to always look like we know what we’re doing. Who really wants to belong to the jaded, cynical, know-it-all club anyway? How can we live with our tourist eyes no matter where we are? Eyes that are fully open and taking in their surroundings.  Eyes full of wonder, awe, curiosity, excitement and adventure.

Let’s recognise that if being a tourist is the equivalent of being a beginner, then it’s actually pretty awesome to be a tourist. To be the person who is seeing something for the first time and delighting in it.  To be the person who takes their time and soaks it in.  To be the person who explores excitedly and laughs about getting lost.  To be the person who knows that the challenging things that happen become the best stories to tell.

I’ll leave you with this thought…

How can you be more of a tourist in your own life today?

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  1. Reply BigTom

    I love looking like a tourist….i even embrace it. It shows the locals their country is worth visiting. You tell most people you are from out-of-town and you can see the smile of pride on their face.

    • Reply Sam

      So true Tom! That’s awesome that you embrace it…I totally remember that smile of pride when I was in Uzbekistan last year. I think because they don’t have a huge amount of tourists, they were so excited to see us. They were absolutely filled with pride when we said how much we loved their country.

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