Familiarity can breed contempt, as the old saying has it, but more frequently it breeds something worse, a sort of lazy eye. One stops looking at what one sees daily. It (or, sadly, sometimes he or she) is simply there. It also breeds a taking-for-granted of the condition life as it is, laziness of a related sort.
When we are in Italy, where we now live, almost everything seems new and strange to me, even after 8 years. There is so much to learn about a new country and culture – one can barely scratch the surface. There will always be subtleties that we simply don’t understand, both in language and practice.
When we returned to the States for an extended stay this year, everything here seemed strange and huge – big roads, big stores, big cars, big people. After about two weeks, though, it became the norm because, as Americans, it is the life that is most familiar to us. How quickly we took for granted that stores were open in the middle of the day, though they might close earlier than we’d like (or weirdly, they might be open all night!). How quickly and happily we adapted to gas for the car that costs less than the equivalent of $5/gallon; and (*yawn*) the fact that we can get any book, cd, dvd, or magazine we want for free at the public library. We joined an inexpensive service that sent us the movies we requested through the mail, and we received them only two days after the request… amazing! To be honest, we very quickly did get used to all the readily available services and goods here.
Back in January I was musing about why we (people in general) move around as much as we do. One reason I overlooked back then was simply the joy in giving our mental eyes a good bath, seeing things from a different perspective, jolting ourselves out of the rut of our familiar lives. They say people always return from a vacation refreshed and that they work much more efficiently. It makes sense. When we come back with new eyes we actually see our work, rather than seeing the one-dimensional ‘work’ that we’ve grown so accustomed to.
We’re traveling again next week, returning to Italy. We’ve grown used to life back here in the good old U.S., and yes! we like it here. But we’re excited to be going home. Everything will be, for a time, unfamiliar. What fun!