Sunday, August 7, 2011

Child-like Wonder?

We came across this quote from Bill Bryson, and it got us thinking.....
"I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything."


Having just spent a week in Ghana, where almost everything was brand new, I'm not sure I experienced "childlike wonder", but it was definitely interesting. Not being a serial expat (one who moves around the globe a lot), I had forgotten how mentally exhausting it can be to not have a clue what you're doing most of the time. The simple task of trying to remember not to use my left hand for waving to people, accepting anything that was given me, and obviously for eating, was a challenge, made worse because I knew how offensive using the left hand is out there. It wasn't even something I could laugh off.

For me, the child like wonder comes in when I return to England each year and experience new developments, many of which haven't reached the States yet. The hand-held credit card processor that is used in most UK restaurants still almost makes me applaud in appreciation. No fears about your credit card disappearing off to be copied by some ne'er do well in the kitchens. (BTW I am also still appalled at the lack of cross-checking that's done when you proffer a credit card in the USA. They usually return your card to you before you've signed everything. I quite often use my husband's, sign it with my name and nothing is said. How do they know I'm not a crazed ex-wife who is spending every unearned penny he has?)

I also often wonder at the reverse - things that still don't happen in the UK. Like petrol/gas stations that allow you to pay at the pump instead of having to go into the little shop (past all those irresistible goodies) and pay the sales assistant. Mind you, given the relatively mild climate in the UK, there's little danger of getting hyperthermia just by crossing the forecourt in the winter.

One thing I notice that's now all the rage on either side of the Pond, and equally as annoying on both sides, is the self check-out. Grrr. No matter how carefully I place items into the shopping bag, the bloody woman starts shouting at me, stops the entire procedure and tells me to wait for a sales assistant.

The only child-like emotion I experience at that point is the urge to lie on the floor and throw a gigantic tantrum!


Unlike Toni, I have never visited a truly exotic country.  All of my explorations have taken place in Europe, which, these days, hardly qualifies as exotic.  So, like Toni, most of my child-like wonder results from visiting my home country and encountering customs—both old and new—that make me scratch my head and wonder.

The anachronism that is a dollar bill, the quaintness of having to sign for a credit card purchase (coupled with the unease of seeing my card disappear into the back room with a total stranger) and the “this would never happen in MY country” outrage of having to pay a fee to the bank every time I wanted access to my own money.

The wasteland that commercialisation make of huge swaths of the landscape, the direness of cable television and the seeming addiction of the population to sugar and salt evidenced by the vast amounts of either (or both) ingredient in every consumable item also leave me wondering.  I also find myself hesitating when attempting to order certain item like a griddled egg or white coffee, knowing that this would likely confuse my waiter.

All of this inevitably leads me to the realization that, if I hadn’t moved to another country, I would still consider this normal.  And, as an American, I would view this behavior, not only as the correct way things should be done, but as the only way.  That insight, however, is generally followed by acceptance of that once-familiar phenomenon known as the American way of life.  And then, like becoming reacquainted with an old friend whose company you enjoy despite their flaws and peccadilloes, I settle back into the comforting routine and the wonder becomes the fact that I found it so foreign in the first place.


  1. The thing is, once you've lived in a place for a while, the childlike wonder becomes replaced with irritation.....

    One thing I cannot stand about America is that no-one returns their shopping trolleys to their rightful places in the superstore carparks. Instead they leave them sitting there blocking the spaces, because they can't be bothered to walk 20 yards to put them away. At first I was amused by this - but now it makes my blood boil. I hope this is one habit that doesn't start to cross the Pond....

  2. If your superstore is anything like the few here, they have hardly any places to return carts to. Most people end up parking them on the grass verges to ensure that they don't wheel into cars.

  3. Hahaha! I was thinking the same child like emotion about self service check outs in grocery stores! If my daughter is with me she prefers to do it than let me do it. She's 13.


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