There are some basic questions that everyone asks me when they meet me for the first time. I travel alone, and I visit places for long periods of time (1-6 months). I work online in various fields to support my travel, and I make it a point to befriend locals and expats living in the cities I visit. So, normally I will first meet someone that has either been reading my blog, or I will hit up Grindr (a gay social mobile app) and meet a local. From there, I will meet their friends… and their friends’ friends… etc.
This means that I constantly find myself at restaurants meeting new friends and inevitably there are 5 questions that typically come first:
Where are you from?
Where do you live?
Are you on holiday?
How long will you be traveling?
Are you here for work?
These 5 questions are pretty much universal around the world, and 99% of people could answer all these questions very quickly and with confidence. I can’t.
I have to fumble my way through all these questions with odd qualifiers and vague references. For example, consider the following conversation:
New foreign friend: So, where are you from?
Me: Well, I’m from the US, but I have been living in Thailand for the last year and a half.
New foreign friend: Oh, wow. So where do you live now?
Me: Well, nowhere… or right here in Budapest. Actually, I’m kind of homeless, but I have a flat downtown…
New foreign friend: Hmmm, OK. Are you on holiday?
Me: No. I’m still working while I’m here.
New foreign friend: Ah, ok. So you are here for work?
Me: No. Not really. I’m working, but I am not here for work. I just wanted to visit Budapest.
New foreign friend: When do you go back home?
Me: I don’t really have a home, but I will visit my family in FL for Xmas.
New foreign friend: Then what?
Me: I will move down to Guatemala. I was there last year, and I just fell in love with Central America…
New foreign friend: Are you a spy or something?
This conversation happens about once a day, and I still sound like an idiot every time I meet someone new. I’m an introvert. I don’t like talking a lot, and I never want to feel like I am dominating the conversation or trying to talk about myself more than the other person… That is, after all, what my blog is for. Try to accurately answer the questions as quickly as possible without getting into monologues about my “amazing life”. The end result is that I come off sounding either unstable or evasive.
So, I have this dilemma of never really knowing what the hell to tell people when they ask me seemingly simple questions, because I don’t fit into any of the normal molds we all come to expect. Labels are an important thing for humans, and like it or not, labels build trust very quickly.
If I could answer those questions with a simple statement like, “I live in Florida, but I’m here on vacation for the week.” People understand this concept. They have also been on vacation before. They also live in a specific place. The also travel over short predefined periods. They can empathize with me. However, when I start answering these questions with my odd pseudo-responses, no one can ever relate. They have no idea what I’m talking about or doing, and it means I have to work a bit harder to build up that trust and fill in the gaps.
While it may be exhausting to constantly answer the same set of questions over and over again… the lesson I have learned from this is that labels matter. Labels are part of human nature, and there are benefits to fitting into certain labels and norms. To live in a way that is unusual and thus without a label, definitely means a bit more work connecting to those in the mainstream. It’s also very likely that most people will never totally understand who I am or what motivates me. But, that’s ok. In the end, what choice do I have? This is me.
I’m not a tourist. I’m not an expat. I’m not a local. I’m not a backpacker. I’m not on vacation… I’m just Jason, and this is just my life on my terms.