In Defence of “When I Was Overseas…”
You’ve just arrived back from the trip of a lifetime – your skin is bronzed, your legs are hairy and your head is whirling with new ideas (and maybe a bit of residual coke from your time in Central America).
Jetlagged but still buzzing, you arrive at a party back home and all your friends are there. You’ve barely opened your mouth to tell your story about the night you almost got arrested when a mate shuts you down.
“Nobody cares,” they deadpan. “You’ve been overseas, we get it.” Flicking their ciggy, they continue to talk about how fucked up they got on the weekend.
Once you get around to uploading your photos to Facebook, comments are generally something along the lines of a sarcastic, “Did you go to overseas or something?” or a recycled joke such as, “How can you tell if someone’s been to India? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you about it.”
But I’m revolting against this incessant travel-talk bashing and standing in solidarity with those who have found hope on a mountain in Nepal, enlightenment in a café in Amsterdam or love on the top bunk of a squeaky hostel bed in Barcelona, and damn well want to talk about it.
If travel has been your life for the past few months, how can your friends expect you not to breathe a word about it, but rather, pretend you never left your incestuous suburb and that you actually care about who’s fucking who, and how much the tobacco tax is eating into everyone’s Centrelink money?
It seems as though when our friends return from overseas, their stories of life-changing experiences are so far removed from our own mundane lives that we can’t help but belittle them to make ourselves feel better.
Don’t take this as an invitation to get up on a soap box wearing 20 hand-woven anklets from Nepal and wax lyrical about how much better the nightlife is in the UK and how much hotter the guys are in Italy. It may be true, but nobody likes a bragger. There is a difference between bragging and telling a story, however, and the issue here is that the latter often gets mistaken for the former.
Instead of taking our worldly friends down a notch every time they bring up something that happened outside of our small reality, can’t we just be happy for them? (Even if they did come back with dreadlocks and pubic lice.)
We Aussies have a habit of cutting down anyone we might vaguely suspect of being a tall poppy. But instead of cutting our friends down when they bloom, maybe we should listen and learn a thing or two for ourselves on how to grow.
If you’d never listened to that friend’s story about getting groped on a train in Tokyo, how would you know to take the women’s only carriage?
Or, if you’d never shut down your pal before she could finish her story about WWOOFing at a lavender farm in the south of France, how would you know to always read reviews or else risk being greeted by a creepy old farmer with a bottle of Bordeaux and a bulge in his pants?
Don’t let the green-eyed monster get in the way of allowing your friends to talk about their travels. Sharing stories helps us understand each other, and discounting our friends’ experiences risks wasting an opportunity deepen our friendships.
So, next time a friend returns from their travels and starts a story with, “This one time in Berlin… ” take a deep breath and ask, “And then what?”
Cover by Ian Dooley