Friday, May 06, 2011

The Problem with Moving

I've been thinking lately about the downsides of moving to a new place (whether it's a new state or a new country or whatever). Everyone is aware of the struggles around not knowing the conventions or how to accomplish things in the new place (which can range from how to get a license plate in Nebraska to the need to give bribes to bureaucratic functionaries in some countries or whatever), but I think there's another negative thing that isn't as obvious: the loss of features.

Every place has certain features that are positive. Texas has, for instance, Blue Bell ice cream, which is pretty great for a non-premium brand, and Tex-Mex, and South by Southwest. New Orleans has Mardi Gras. Colorado has skiing.

But often the best "special" features of a place are not very accessible. Sometimes a new resident wouldn't know that the feature exists (like you might not notice Blue Bell ice cream and think to try it). Sometimes the feature is an acquired taste (as Tex-Mex might be). And sometimes the feature is something that can be enjoyed much more thoroughly (or at all) if you grew up with it, like Mardi Gras. (As a kid, we were thrilled to get beads and doubly-thrilled by doubloons. Mardi Gras was a whole season with parades all the time, not just one day in the city but on weekends in the suburbs as well. I knew a kid who moved to New Orleans and thought the whole thing was stupid - little cheap aluminum coins? Who needs it?)

So when you move, basically you lose all of the special features of your old place, yet can't fully appreciate the special features of the new place.

The grocery store is kind of a microcosm of this experience, and it's kind of what brought it to my attention when I moved back to Texas. If you're just moving within the U.S., then your old store will have had major national brands of everything, plus better local brands of some things. The new place won't have the old better local brands, and its own local brands won't look familiar or inviting, so you'll only have the least common denominator of big national brands to choose from.

Groceries are even worse if you move internationally, of course. I read a blog post sometime about living as an American in China. Apparently breakfast cereal is really expensive there, so that would be diminishment of your quality of life. I guess it's not what Chinese people traditionally eat for breakfast, though, so it's not that they suffer under the yoke of expensive Cheerios so much as that Cheerios is a weird foreign luxury item. So basically if you want to live cheaply and comfortably in a foreign country you have to either try new, weirder things or else stick to very basic things that are available everywhere (produce, meats, etc.)

I think we've all known people who have moved to wherever we live and then proceeded to hate it for not having the right features (like Sally's college roommate who lamented the lack of real bagels down here). I was like that when I moved to Houston from New Orleans as a kid, and I wish someone had encouraged me to have a different attitude about it. I think if you can be a little bit adventurous and non-judging, you can probably have a better time in a new place. And if you're flexible enough to live like the locals, you might have a very good time indeed.


Debbie said...

Interesting. I've definitely noticed the phenomena of different cool things in different places (Tex Mex, wildflowers, warm weather and two-stepping in Texas; fun accents, good museums and mass transit, loads of colleges, fall colors, and ice cream bars in Boston; basements and museums in Chicago; space launches and good amusement parks in Florida; smart laws, good mass transit and good bike lanes in Amsterdam...).

But I've never really felt like the new place is worse just because I know about a smaller percentage of the cool things. Maybe that's because I moved too often--I never really had a home base to which I was comparing anything. The way I experience it, I like living someone where longer than shorter because I get to know more about the cool stuff.

Actually, one thing I was surprised to learn rather late in life is that even if you don't move, some of the cool things start disappearing out of your life anyway (other people move away, restaurants close, etc.).

I definitely liked Austin best early on because I just hate cold weather and I hate not understanding the language of those around me. Yet most of the American south I've seen has a creepy vibe to me, even in the big cities, that Austin doesn't have.

Anonymous said...

Fucking Blogger ate my comment. The short version -

It's easy to think things are cool when you are visiting somewhere and not trying to live a full life there (e.g., oh fun we buy our ingredients for lunch at a dozen different little stores). Perhaps this is part of what makes being on vacation so awesome - it's relatively easy to embrace many of the special features of where you are because you aren't encumbered with job responsibilities, all your possessions, etc., and there is a lot of built-in infrastructure to help you make the most of the experience. (You also aren't as sensitive to things like cost and time pressure, of course, which puts some of these special features out of reach of many people living there.)

The place I'm moving to this summer has special features that will be a bit difficult to enjoy - need special skills, gear, and physical toughness to enjoy outdoor recreation at -30 degrees; my bicycling skills suck - and others that will be very welcome after living in a couple places where the features of "real" cities (e.g., art museums) are lacking. I looked forward to leaving Austin and am looking forward to leaving WS for someplace new, even though I basically liked both places. It would be a lot tougher to face moving outside the US, though, and I'm not sure that I'm adventurous enough to do it.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I expected to find the south creepier than I have. East Texas is probably the creepiest place I've been - in Beaumont, the white people freaked out/scared Robert and me enough that we felt comfortable for the first time in a restaurant with all black staff and customers. We couldn't leave that place behind soon enough.