For me, every place has had its own particular smell and sound landscape.
I remember the smell of early mornings, or late nights on the streets of Moscow, Helsinki, New York, Washington DC, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rovaniemi – all the cities I’ve lived in so far. I can almost here the creak of snow under my feet, traffic echoing beside me, sound of water hitting the streets when all the dirt from yesterday is being washed away, sudden whiffs of coffee coming from cafés that you barely notice, or sound of a metro coming from the tunnel with such a powerful noise that it feels you’re gonna fly away.
Experienced from the Hills, Berkeley smells of trees and plants, it smells of the heat of the sun coming out during the day, of morning dew, and of cold soil. Its sound landscape is characterised by foghorns of the ships, sirens of the emergency vehicles, birds – and a mix of constant background noise (note: of my kids) including screaming, laughing, arguing, commenting, imitating farting, and singing tunes from the crazy frog.
Coming to new places and settling in takes time. The hardest part is not the enormous amount of things to do and the related bureaucracy that we’ve encountered here – when applying for drivers licence, enrolling our older kid into school, making enquiries about day care, dealing with the paper work of visiting scholarship, figuring out the health care system, trying to optimise best deals for renting a car – but the most difficult thing in a new place is to find friends and establish a social network.
Usually this happens exactly when you are about to leave and move back to your home town, or to some other new place. At least this has been my experience.
But now we have the Facebook. It is amazing how you can find local peer-(help-)groups, most commonly under the name ‘mothers of’ a particular area or neighbourhood. How did we survive before this kind of communities existed? This is the best innovation ever. Better than Wikipedia, or Google – though they know a lot, they are never able to share personal experiences. When we think of the robots coming, and the fear of them taking our jobs, or becoming our best friends, or lovers, one of the arguments against considering robots equal to human beings has been that they will never have the moral or empathetic character as humans do. I say, they will never be able to share their experiences the way a mother shares with another one, the way a teenagers shares with another one, the way a homeless shares with another one.
And then, besides the social media, there is the thing called ‘the American character’. The one which I just started to fell in love with.
I remember being so confused about mundane small talk, about ‘hi how are you-s’, about Stepford wife -characters, about ‘mams and sirs’ in grocery stores and at customer service. I thought I preferred a more ‘authentic’ way of being. The kind of way, when you need to seek for an eye contact and even then it is uncertain that the fellow human being would greet you. But that’s not true for me, at least not now, not for the time being.
I love how everyone says hello, when I pass them on the street in my neighbourhood. I love how people greet each other in the parks and play grounds, or start spontaneusly speaking at the cashier. Or when you sit at a diner with your family, and an old couple walks by, stops and says: you have a beautiful family! How can you not love this amazing social character? How can you not want to learn from this kind of attitude?
The best of arrivals and settling ins is that you get to do and experience things for the first time. You get to be the tourist that doesn’t need to leave. The worst of arrivals and settling ins is the feeling of ‘if I only knew this before’. But the good news is that you will know better the next time.