Thursday, March 12, 2009

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Breaking out of your comfort zone while traveling is generally seen as a good thing. It can introduce you to new people and expose you to culturally unique experiences that you can't get by simply hanging out at the nearest expat bar. Some travelers take going off the beaten path to the extreme, while I find that small, less intense gestures usually do the trick. Think trying out a few foreign words at the local market vs. hitchhiking through Siberia. No matter your preferred form of exploration, you might eventually find yourself seeking out something a bit more familiar. Sometimes, even the most adventurous of travelers head back to the comfort zone for a refresher course in all things, well, comforting. I don't live in a foreign country, but there are definitely days when living in DC feels like living on another planet. Finding myself in need of all things known, I jumped at the chance to attend the Minnesota State Society's Annual Walleye Dinner, an event that didn't disappoint.

Shortly after walking in the door I knew I was among friends. We took turns marking our hometowns with push pins on a state map, and then quickly heading over to the bar to politely wait in line for domestic beers and red wine. The night's emcee was a DC weatherman who grew up in Minnesota and who brought down the house when he confidently announced that our dining hall was "the nicest room in Washington." I sat at a table with people who understood my longing for the Twin Cities' restaurant scene, allowed my accent to proudly show its face, and were able to inform me about Sun Country's return to the Minneapolis - DC direct route and Northwest Airlines' subsequent scaling back of their recently inflated prices for the same trip. Trust me when I tell you this is huge. We ate beer battered walleye (flown in from Minnesota, and utilizing a Mondale family recipe, of course), worked as a team to finish the Minnesota state trivia game (did you know that Yanni has a doctorate from the U of M?), and agreed that the best raffle prizes were the Caribou Coffee gift cards and the entire boxes of Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls. I didn't want the night to end.

After the goodbyes the exchanging of business cards and the realization that we'll probably see each other at the May 7th Twins-Orioles game in Baltimore, we finally reentered the world of Washington. Three hours with my people had reenergized me; for a moment I felt like I belonged somewhere. Don't get me wrong, I love being a foreigner. I thrive in situations where everything is new, every day is full of exploration, and the people you meet are curious to talk to someone from far, far away. But sometimes I just need a good dose of the familiar. Something that reminds me from whence I came, and that I'm not the only one in the world who knows what -40 Fahrenheit feels like. So while I encourage travelers to branch out from the usual touristy routine, I don't fault people for seeking out a comfort group while traveling or living overseas. After all, I need one and I haven't even left the country.


Nomadic Matt said...

i live in foreign countries and have lots of foriegn friends...hardly any of them are locals though...

Peggy Hu said...

Helen and I will be at the ACES conference in Minneapolis in April; let me know if there is something specific you'd like me to bring back for you!