Over the past few years a tradition of sorts has arisen. To celebrate my birthday, I sit down, put on my thinking cap, and ramble a bit about some of the things I’ve learned over the previous year. Sometimes these are musings still being digested, other times topics I’m more thoroughly confident about. Regardless, today I celebrate turning 31 and in honor of the occasion have focused on two topics. In some ways the two are complimentary. In others ways they’re worlds apart. I hope you’ll enjoy the musings and take them for what they are – just reflections and an attempt to share the world as I see it and how I relate to it. You can see my more detailed 30th birthday post here, my musings on turning 29 here, or 28 here. This year I also stumbled upon a long-forgotten blog post written on my 23 birthday (yeah, I’ve been blogging that long) which you can view here.
A couple of years ago I had a realization. As I sat with several friends, on multiple occasions, we’d arrive in a situation where they were uncomfortable. Before long, they’d get antsy and comments would start to flow. Often it was about the people present, or aspects of the venue. Perhaps the people were too young, or too naive, or acting too embarrassingly American (in several instances it was young college students on their first exchange). In other situations the beer was too warm, or the venue had failed in some utterly trivial and minor but nevertheless comment worthy way. Visualize the hipster that ends up in a trendy club and is utterly out of place, or the posh southern socialite who ends up in a grungy dive bar. Picture the polished model who regularly is at ease and comfortable in fancy cocktail bars ending up in a grungy little bodega that only serves beer and bitters.
In these instances their comments were often somewhat embarrassing, in no small part because they’re typically made fairly loudly or at the expense of those nearby. That sense of surprise though also got me to monitor my own behavior and, sure enough, I started to discover I had the same coping mechanism. I also suspect it’s a mechanism that is particularly prevalent within academics as it’s often the easiest and safest defense mechanism for discomfort. Ultimately though, it’s also something all of us do and on a fairly regular basis. Those that are best at conquering the impulse, are those that also seem to be exceptional at integrating into foreign cultures such as the photographer who magically befriends locals or the social butterfly that drifts effortlessly from group to group.