Getting used to the unusual

Getting used to the unusual

I take a look at my mobile phone. Still thirty seconds to go. I get ready for the final sprint, the rope is rhythmically smacking the ground under my naked feet. 3… 2… 1… and over. I am a little exhausted from my daily sports routine, which I need to not come back as a human meatball. But I am happy, in contrast to earlier in the morning. Somehow, I got out on the wrong side of the bed and was a bit grumpy. For any reason. After reaching the rooftop for my morning exercise, I decided to not listen to an audio-book, but to listen to music. Playlist: Favourite Songs. I press play and start skipping. Suddenly a feeling of pure happiness overcomes me. A feeling that I would have not believed to become possible on this very day. A song of Jimmy Eat World enters my brain through the Bluetooth headphones. A band, which I follow and love since my teeny-years. It is this very music, which suddenly put me back into reality, which demonstrates me, what I am doing here, how nice life is and turns my grumpiness into ridicule.

“Damn, just look at this!”, screams Nils, the excited child within me and focusses on the scenery in front of my eyes. The rope is flying almost completely on its own around my body. The sun is slowly coming up behind the green mountain and its rays are carefully wandering around the fog of the valley. The city has been built directly on the mountain range, houses in every colour slightly tower above the sea of green trees and transform the landscape into something like an expressionist Heidi-scenery. In every imaginable colour. The sun is warming my face, body and spirits. What an amazing moment. I laugh all by myself and remind myself that I could also sit at home right now, looking up to a grey-clouded sky in a monochrome city. I jump from one foot to the other, make jumping-jacks and feel like a child on the playground.

Where does that come from? Why this sudden exuberant feeling? I think, I have just reminded myself of who I am and what the hell I am doing. That it is not to be taken for granted to be here and explore something. Something really new. Indeed, I am like a child. An anthropologist has to be like a child. Everything has to be learned in a new way, understood in a new way. I have to forget, what I find self-evident. It starts with small things. For example, that you do not call the big sister by her name, but as “Didi”. And that you fold your hands for salutation. And that we do not start to eat together, but that I, as a guest, start. As long as there is no very old aged (male) person of honour around. After food I can also just stand up and leave, without saying goodbye. A lot of small things, actually. And then there are these big things, like identity, language and social relationships. Or friendship. And then there is the biggest challenge: Understand social structure and write about it. If you live in another cultural context, you become used to it, you stop questioning after a while, you take it for granted. That’s poison for anthropological research.

Habituation can also inhibit joy. Like a multi-millionaire, who does not feel the thrill of his private pool after two pool-parties. The music has reminded me of home, has knocked me out of the skies of hospitality and chay. I see the world through my eyes, not through the glasses of familiarization and customization. I can jump from one culture to the other, change my identity within seconds, just like I change my legs while I am skipping. It takes a little practice, but if you learned it, you can do it easily and it gives you a valuable outcome.

It is also enjoyable and works best with a piece of home. Always, when I video-chat with friends, when I get feedback on my blog or even when I simply listen to the music, which I listen to at home, I realize that I really do something special. That I explore uncommon roads, that I undergo something meaningful in every second and that I broaden my horizons with every step. That makes me happy. It is the same the other way around. When I am at home, I am able to see what all I have in my life. How beautiful my own culture is. That it is not taken for granted that I can act exuberant and silly in public, that I live in a liberal and open society, where you are considerate of each other (I leave all those sexist, racist and other shit aside, for a moment). That I can live my own life. That I was raised to be free. And most of all, that I use this freedom well. Sometimes, one should remind him or herself, how unusual the usual can be.

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Beautiful read! I really enjoyed your style of writing. Do you translate your own posts? Between German and English?


Thank you for sharing this brilliant and difficult journey with us Nils. 🙂 I find this metaphor of skipping between the two cultures interesting, jumping from one identity to another, but for me, and even though I haven’t gone on my fieldwork yet but have lived in cultures different from my own, I don’t see a clear-cut when I’m maneuvering my way through. It’s not a jump or a skip, more like a confused/confusing assault to the senses and patterns I am used to which, in order to calm down, I have to adapt to. But even while adapting I… Read more »


This one is my favorite. 😀