If you need to stretch your legs, you're in luck. We've just now rounded the corner where the tourmobile stops for long enough for us to get out and gawk at people who have seen an "elephant."
But before we do that, some orientation: who exactly are these people, what are they like, and how do they differ from the rest of the traveling herd?
#1: Time to Define "Seeing the Elephant" … Encyclopedic version
#1a: Time to Define "Seeing the Elephant" ... Reader's Digest, Twitter, Movie Trailer, and Crib Notes versions
#3: Who Are You, What Have You Sacrificed? The Repatriation Challenge ... Meet Ramona Repat
Once you've seen an elephant, it's relatively easy to spot someone else who has. The faraway look in their eyes, the I-can't-quite-place-where-it's-from (because it's such a funny hybrid) accent, the rather droll way of responding to life's vicissitudes — all are dead giveaways. But what if you haven't met an elephant seeker before, how will you know?
For background, I've prepared a one-page hand-out on Eddie Expat. Though he can't be here today with us in the flesh — he lives on the other side of the world — Eddie is a good friend of mine and trusts me to represent his story. Rest assured, Eddie is with this tour in spirit. The more you come to know him, the more adept you'll be at recognizing people who have seen an elephant.
MEET EDDIE EXPAT
Top Ten "Need to Know" Items About Eddie:
1) Eddie is the kind of traveler who stays put in his destination — he is not, repeat not, a tourist (he does not travel merely for pleasure) nor is he a globetrotter. He's not one to "eat, pray, love" around the world in response to a life crisis at home. And never once did he aspire to be the kind who clocks up more than a hundred countries and six continents by age 25. Unlike most globetrotters, Eddie prefers to take it slow and easy. He unpacks his suitcase (never a backpack) and stays awhile, sometimes for many years or a lifetime. Eddie insists that s-l-o-w travel is what people generally mean by seeing an "elephant." Elephants are highly intelligent, complex animals. It doesn't do well to rush the experience.
2) At the same time — and I don't think he will be insulted if I say this — Eddie is no country expert. By that I mean, someone who has seen so much of the elephant they don't even know they're looking at it any more: they are the elephant. Eddie has seen the elephant, wrinkles and all, but he prides himself on staying at arm's length. Now why is this, you might ask, given Eddie's pachyderm obsession? Eddie doesn't know exactly. It stymies him, too. Sometimes he says it's because he doesn't want to spend his adulthood focusing exclusively on one pursuit, especially as he has to earn a living. Other times he says that not knowing the elephant too well will make it easier to say good-bye one day. Eddie intends to come home, he's just not sure when ...
3) Eddie moved abroad during his formative years. He eventually married and now has a couple of kids, but he still talks about seeing the elephant in the first person, because for him it's been a deeply personal connection. He likes to think that his elephant-seeking experience has turned him into a philosopher — albeit of the garden variety. (Eddie by the way won't mind that joke at his expense. He's a generally humorous guy with a self-deprecating wit.)
4) Eddie can certainly be philosophical about the places where he's lived. The other day I emailed him a map I'd found of London — that's where Eddie went to live first, for graduate school. It was a map plotting where and by whom photos uploaded to Flickr and Picasa were taken during a given period. Sights captured by "local" shutterbugs — who are identified as such because they've taken many shots over a wide range of dates — are marked with blue dots. Tourists get red dots. (Yellows could not be placed in either camp.)
|Locals and Tourists #1 (GTWA #2): London, by Eric Fischer|
5) Eddie does not delude himself into thinking his travels have been epic, but he does think they are worthy of writing about. That's why he keeps a blog, occasionally including snippets of poetry and wisdom that have inspired him along the way. He notices other expat bloggers doing this, too, and for fun keeps a running list of taglines that he finds uplifting. Here are a few of his recent favorites:
- "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." — Saint Augustine, The World Is a Book blog
- "Where everything is something trembling ... on the brink of something else." — Vladimir Nabokov, On the Brink of Something Else blog
- "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." — Talmud, Destination Anywhere blog
|Pony Express ad, 1860|
7) Eddie is further aware that some part of him couldn't give a toss about having hundreds of friends with whom he communicates constantly. If pressed to say why he's such a loner at heart, he points out that it helps him notice subtleties — and that subtleties are what makes seeing the elephant worth the trouble. Eddie also admits that while he dreams of returning home, he doesn't particularly miss his home country. He was always something of a misfit in America, never having been one of those "bright outgoing happy shiny" people. (I told him the American psychologist Barbara Held, author of Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching, could have a field day with that comment.)
8) As much as he admires the elephant, Eddie doesn't mind admitting that the quest has left him a trifle world weary. "Same s**t, different scenery really is true": Eddie occasionally catches fellow expats saying things like that, and although he disapproves, he knows it's not dissimilar to the Victorian saying: "Been there, done that, seen the elephant." In his lowest moments, Eddie wonders whether, by giving himself over to the ambition of seeing an elephant, he peaked out too early. He fears he may even be suffering from what the Hawaiian Islanders call "rock fever" — except that for him, the rock is Planet Earth. In which case, what's the cure: space walking?
|Emily Dickinson Museum poster (2008),|
created by Penelope Dullaghan
10) Knowing Eddie as well as I do, I'm sure he would want this lecture to end on an upbeat note. Like many an intrepid traveler, Eddie is a firm believer in: If life hands you lemons, make lemonade. It's an attitude that has helped him remain grounded over his years of living overseas. Hardly surprising, then, that Eddie has become a lemonade maker worth his salt, occasionally mixing in tequila. (Hahaha — just checking whether you're still listening ...) Eddie recently sent me a link to a Web site for expats where it said that one of the things no expat likes to admit is how much they drink in a given week, particularly as it never seems excessive at the time. I responded I'd drink to that, and he told me he was guffawing out loud. I told you he was a jolly sort!
Question: Any questions you'd like me to answer on Eddie Expat's behalf? We have a few minutes before setting off for our final destination on this tour: what I've labeled the repatriation challenge. At that time, we will learn all about Eddie's counterpart, Ramona Repat. Can't wait!