We made it to the other side of the world in the face of COVID-19 and Putin’s threats. The best thing about escaping the hermit kingdom is exposure, once again, to the great variety of human life beyond that existing in New Zealand. It is so easy to assume that the way one does something, or the way things are done by the people one normally sees, are the only ways of acting. We don’t even assume it. We just don’t think about it.
I remember early in my overseas travels discovering that quite a number of Austrian customs were not at all like those in New Zealand. No-one had toasters, because they bought fresh bread every morning. They also didn’t have squeegee mops but slopped water on the floor and then mopped it up again with dreadlock-style mops, in what seemed like a very painful exercise (I got to do it because I worked in a pension). Neither of these is particularly revelatory or significant, but they were signs I embedded that even ordinary things can be done very differently.
The feel of the United Kingdom is very different from that in New Zealand at present. There are hopeful signs around the place suggesting people should wear masks on public transport but no-one is paying attention to them. Very few people are wearing masks, even in crowded tube trains or the massive crowds in Leicester Square or the cram-packed Book of Mormon musical we attended. Britons have taken ‘Freedom Day’ (24 February 2022) seriously. What’s normal is what everyone else is doing and us New Zealanders who are still scared of catching COVID are definitely abnormal.
I wonder how long it will take for the British, or European (because we only have 4 more days in the UK) ways to rub off on us. I hypothesise it won’t take too long. That’s how people are and you have to be staunch to continue to be different from the masses.
I look forward to the differences in Europe. Britain can seem different enough, with its weight of history evident at every turn. But Europe is so much fun for someone from a country where you have to take a multi-hour flight to anywhere that speaks another language. First stop for us will be Berlin and Dresden to visit friends, not so different because I once lived in Austria and learned German. Then Prague to catch up with Sarah briefly and Slovenia to go hiking – those countries will be in the considerably different category because we can’t even guess what the words means, given their Slavic origin rather than Germanic.
Vive la difference (although France is not on our itinerary).