Yes, we can get everywhere faster these days. And everywhere feels less wonderfully unique and foreign than it used to. This rule, sadly, works for pretty near everywhere in the US and major cities around the world and is starting to apply in developing countries too. The Big Macs are consistent, TGI Fridays is everywhere, and Starbucks is growing virally as well. (Do they have *Venti* in Rome? Or is it *large*? I don’t know).
I was walking through the airport in West Palm Beach today, looking at some interesting decorative fish hanging from the ceiling. I thought of looking in the stores for something unique for a Christmas present but that thought perished quickly. Everywhere I travel for business or pleasure seems to have the same stores in the malls, on the streets and in the airports as in Virginia. It used to be I could come home from San Diego with something interesting for the family. Then I couldn’t. In the 90’s we realized the Waterford crystal from the UK was the same as what we bought back home, except that it was cheaper at COSTCO. Same for the Lladros in Madrid. The only things worth bringing home seem to come from a long way away and are made by hand. They still have some essence of the culture but are getting harder and harder to find. The carvings we saw in Tanzania were beautiful, but the vast majority looked like they were cheaply mass produced, probably at slave-like wages, and who knows where in Africa they came from. Can we be sure they didn’t really come from China?
There is a consolation and it centers on not emphasizing the things to bring back. The small world disappointments drive us to spend less time in the big cities, less time in the stores, more time in the rural areas and more time doing things where we meet the people. Like spending extra time in street-side cafes drinking a coffee or a glass of wine. Talking, reading a book, or just enjoying seeing and being. Finding a service project that makes use of our skills and passions.
I am much happier now with a head and a heart full of memories than I am with a shelf full of knick-knacks.