The safest and most familiar dish on the menu is a hamburger. They are universal. They work everywhere. That’s a good starting point. I place my order and start waiting. Slowly a thought creeps into my head: if burgers are universal and work everywhere, aren’t they also pretty much all the same everywhere? I look around and people in front of the European Parliament spend their time under the still warming sun. I have come all the way to Brussels and I order a hamburger for my first meal. What does it tell about me?
I’ve spent a week in the apartment apart from going to my lectures. This is what I’m used to do back home. Once you’ve gone out and studied your bit it’s good to get back home to rest even though you might not even be that tired. It’s usually very nice to lie on your bed and you can watch your favorite TV show for the whole evening on your computer. However, one evening I have a moment of realization and I ask myself: if I went on exchange just to sit in my room, just because it is easy and something I’m used to doing, shouldn’t I just have stayed home?
In most cases we do things exactly the way we’re used to without noticing it. Our morning routines are set, we have favorite drinks and meals we like to choose form the otherwise so strange menu. Sometimes we might think that the way we do things is the only right or at least the only sensible way of doing things. On the other hand, we might not even notice how set and established our ways of doing things are sometimes.
When I went to the beautiful city of Brussels in September I realized how I automatically tried to find safety from familiar things in the middle of the strange things. The hamburger on the menu and the words resembling Finnish words and familiar logos in the cityscape helped to survive in the new environment. But sometimes, as following the familiar things takes your all attention, you might lose something essential about the surrounding unfamiliarity. When you do things just as you have always done, you might not notice actually how things can be done in so many different ways.
As I step inside the restaurant in Brussels I have already decided that tonight I would not order anything familiar. Everything should be something new. As I receive a plate of snails stewed in a mixture of garlic and herb butter I am both excited and nervous. A specialized set of cutlery is also placed in front of me and they look more surgical instruments. After the puzzlement calms down the plate becomes empty rather soon and I notice having enjoyed the snails very much.
After a lecture I pack my back at the apartment with a bottle of water, camera and bread. I travel to a nearby forest and end up spending two and a half hours there. Even though walking in forests is familiar and relaxing to me, going to a forest here in Uppsala in the middle of the week is something that creates an exception in my fixed patterns of behavior. After returning home I feel drowsy yet happy.
I recommend diverging from one’s fixed patterns of behavior. Sometimes it’s fun to do things in a completely different way and notice that other ways also work just as well. Sometimes it’s good to pick the unfamiliar dish from the menu, be the decision good or bad in the end. During the nights I’ve spent sitting in my room while eating the all so familiar food life, especially life as an exchange student, has felt colorless, scentless and tasteless. Luckily, life doesn’t have to be like this. Next time I will try to make my morning porridge in a different way and take a new route to the university. After lecture I might just as well go and take photos in the botanical garden or have a lunch with my roommates in the town center. I recommend you to try a completely different way of doing things or a new way of spending your weekday too.
But as a small reminder in the end: an occasional hamburger or an evening spent at home is nothing bad. On the contrary, if no one liked them they would hardly be a part of anyone’s life. Especially sometimes after returning home from travels one’s own bed and familiar food are exactly the best changes in life.