Sometimes, when I travel, I watch people and I wonder if they know that they live in such a cool place.
Then I remember that they probably feel the same about their city as I do about New York; it feels like home. It doesn't feel like anything special and on occasion it feels quite boring. When I was little, I used to watch game shows like Wheel of Fortune in which the grand prize would often be a trip to New York. I would sit there and wonder why anyone would want a free trip to a place that was only 20 minutes away. Obviously, it never occurred to my 8-year-old-self that not everyone lived in New York. Now don't get me wrong, I had already done a fair amount of traveling with my parents - at least for my age - and I was well aware there was a whole world outside of New York. I also knew it was a world inhabited by people who lived in places I absolutely wanted to see, (why it took me two years of college and three different majors to figure out I wanted to major in Geography, I'll never know).
I knew I had relatives tucked into all parts of the country and even a few in other continents, but still I remember one specific day in Austria when this knowledge failed me.
I was 12 years old, it was the summer after seventh grade and I was in Hallein with my mother. She was back for a visit and I was there for the first time. I met a fairly large number of people over the course of a couple days, a few who didn't speak a word of English. I didn't, and still don't,speak more than a few words of German plus a fairly decent number of food words, (what, did you think my obsession with food developed out of ether in recent years? I assure you it did not).
After a couple days of listening to conversations that were mostly in German, with my mother translating here and there, I was thrilled to meet someone who spoke English. She was one half of a set of twins, the daughters of my mother's cousin. She spoke English very well since the European schools teach second languages far better than any American school I've attended, (as evidenced by my continued inability to speak French even after studying it for the better part of 10 years). Anyway, she was 16 years old and asked me wide-eyed what it was like to live in "The Big Apple". I'm sure I mustered together a shy response along the lines of it's okay, but what I really wanted to say was: Are you crazy? You live in Austria! With it's gorgeous mountains and green countrysides. The narrow cobblestone streets, old world feel and the food. Of course the food!! Then of course I pulled New York back out of the New York-centric orbit that I had set it in and remembered that not everyone grew up there. It's only natural that those who live in all the places I want to visit would also want to visit where I live. After all my home city is just as exciting to them as theirs is to me.
I bring this up, not to highlight my slight tendency to be self centered (a trait that I have to admit is not too foreign to New Yorkers); but to confess that after all these years, my thinking hasn't changed. I have a bachelor's degree in Geography and have completed more than my fair share of Anthropology courses. I have studied other countries, their cultures and their peoples but still; I can't help but wonder, as I walked through Budapest today, if it's residents know they live in such a cool place.