As a roving house sitter, I’m a perpetually new in town. Sometimes I return to places, people and pets I’ve been to before, but a big feature of this lifestyle which I’ve sculptured for myself, is the experience of being the newcomer . A friend recently admitted how jealous she and her group of friends were of my lifestyle, yet shuddered at the thought of being single and new in town. So I started reflecting on how many travel experiences and journeys are predicated on the assumption that you will naturally have a partner or be part of a group. Some people have also mentioned how brave I am to be continually meeting new people in new places.
Self-confident yes, brave I’m not sure but then perhaps I am. My stimulus for doing this is based on the realisation that life is short. I am going to die,like all of us, so I had might as well give it a go and see what happens. So long as I don’t attempt to do it perfectly, which, as we all know, steals all the fun and learning from life.
In many ways being the new person in town is liberating. You are under no obligation to share anything about yourself-unless you want to. You can even try out new ways of being, relating, doing and feeling without the interference of the expectation of others. Friendships made when you are new in town can last as long as you are there or turn into meaningful connections. It all depends on the nature of the connection.
“I’m telling you this because, well, you’ll be going soon” That’s usually a signal to indicate that someone, usually in a small town or tight-knit community, is about to divulge difficulties, disappointments, heartaches and any amount of private information which they have not been able to share in their local community. The fear of being judged is strong for some people. If only they would realise that none of us are “normal” and all of us have private pain.
You might think that this unburdening would strengthen a budding friendship, but for a lot of people it leads to what my friend Lynn calls “The Backpacker Best Friend syndrome”.
This behaviour is about making the most of an opportunity to divest yourself of repressed guilt or sorrow, rather than a chance to create a meaningful friendship based on sharing their authentic self. Being on the other side of the world or country, they find a sympathetic ear to whom they can debrief. Most people don’t listen to themselves, so when another does, all that has been kept within comes pouring out. Relief from such a release can, for those who have not learnt to accept their light and shadow, lead to feelings of guilt and a kind of primitive projection. “If I distance myself from that person, I can pretend I never said such things” Best friend turns to alien overnight.
Places are like their people; some are extroverted and open up to welcome you, other observe and judge from a distance, some are shy and you only discover their core with time and attention.Weather has an impact on the ability to welcome strangers, but not always. I’ve noticed that In a lot of parts of Australia, small towns are maturing, some even becoming sophisticated. This evolution has been brought about by city people retiring or relocating to the area and of course technology has also had a big part to play in this process. Take Brisbane for example, my favourite capital city in Australia. When I visited in the seventies, it was provincial, if not a big country town. Now its a world-class city ranked seventh most liveable city in the world. And yet it hasn’t lost its easy going country town warmth. In my youth it was very much an Anglo-and some would say red-neck-place, but now has developed into a diverse and multicultural metropolis.
Some things about acceptance and friendship never change. Technology is the means by which we can keep in regular touch, but the willingness to connect still comes from the heart, as it has always done. It’s a human thing.
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