Monday, February 20, 2017

The Joy of Low Expectations

Smiling Haitian children, wearing shoes and eating snacks.
It was recently brought to my attention that a highly bizarre condition exists called Paris Syndrome. First diagnosed in 1986, it is described as a temporary mental disorder exhibited by visitors to that fabled French capital, most notably occurring in travelers from Japan. Seeing Paris for the first time and having it fall far short of their expectations, they experience a host of unpleasant physical reactions, including but not limited to delusions, hallucinations, dizziness, sweating, paranoia, heart palpitations, a racing pulse, nausea and vomiting. It is considered by psychiatrists to be a severe form of culture shock.

Ha -- I wish I only felt that way in Paris! Almost every time I have gone to a foreign city I've been disappointed, and while vomiting is something I just don't do because it is too disgusting, I certainly have experienced several of the aforementioned symptoms.

In Barcelona, seeing the Dunkin' Donuts directly across from our hotel room caused me unrelenting sadness every morning when I opened the shades. In Ireland, the fact that everyone spoke English and acted just like Americans, except they drove on the opposite side of the road and the food was inedible, made me angry that I had flown all that way when I could have gone to Vermont for a whole lot less money. I'm pretty sure I had palpitations for a lot of that trip, especially at meals. Even my last trip to Chicago turned me into a sweating, dizzy, paranoid, shaking mess after just two days there, and we were staying on posh Michigan Avenue with no gunslingers in sight.

The only time I have been pleasantly surprised and actually rewarded by travel was when I went to Haiti. I expected it to be terribly hot and depressing, with malaria-ridden mosquitoes covering every surface, beggars and thieves on every corner and barefoot, malnourished children sleeping in the streets. Instead I found a welcoming population of genial and generous natives, fine weather, some great food and not a bug in sight. The obvious lesson: Never underestimate the power of low expectations.

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