Monday, July 25, 2011

Sitting in the "real" Seattle, before setting out to the "fake" India

From the Atlantic: "What makes a place 'real'?"

When you say "I want to get to know the 'real' New York" or London or Paris or whatever, you're probably saying "I want to be an insider there", and you probably don't.

I follow the Couchsurfing Seattle message board. Probably about once a day, someone posts "Hey, I'm traveling through Seattle, want to recommend some places that are the 'real' Seattle? I'm not interested in touristy things, I'm more interested in the offbeat stuff, you know, off the beaten path, really just want to get to know what Seattle is actually like."

Dear all of these people: I guess what you're saying is "I want to get to know some people there." And Couchsurfing is indeed one of the best ways to do that, as far as I can tell. The people you're likely to meet are among the more outgoing folks, and you're likely to make short-term, shallow friendships. This is all fine. Know that that is what you're asking for.

Because if you "want to know the real Seattle," you want to be an insider here. And to be an insider here, almost by definition, you have to live here. Get a job, find an apartment, every week go do something you don't like in order to spend some time with people you think you might like. And there are opportunity costs to this! This is probably not what you want, especially if you're just on vacation.

"But for people whose place was once in the center, accepting a narrative that places them somewhere else is a tough adjustment." You'll likely want to feel like an insider, even if you can't be one. Here's my challenge to you: be honest with yourself, realize that you are asking to be an insider, and accept that you are not. There's no shame in that. And when you realize that that is all you want, it'll be easier to let it go.

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