Over the last few days I’ve been snacking on this New Yorker article about the different ways the brain perceives time. Einstein said, ‘An hour sitting with a pretty girl on a park bench passes like a minute, but a minute sitting on a hot stove seems like an hour’, and it turns out there’s a whole field of academic research built around testing this out.
Moving around a lot has demonstrated to me that this principle works for periods of time as well as for individual experiences. The first three weeks you live in a new country feels like a year.
After landing yesterday and unpacking, basically the only thing I did was get groceries, which was a bloodbath. Everything’s in a new language (how do you say ‘chicken stock’ in German?!), all the locations are switched around and, compared to Denmark, a proper supermarket feels like an orgy of choice.
Not recognizing the brands and not being able to read the labels means having no information upon which to choose a product. I picked out a brand of coffee by recognizing the word ‘Ethiopia’ on the label. I picked out a yogurt by comparing the smiles of stock-photo families on the packaging.
I think novelty makes your brain perceive time differently. Places seem farther away the first time you visit them. Even a weekend-length vacation makes home feel remarkably foreign. The hour and a half I spent getting three meals’ worth of groceries felt like a daytrip.
I have to admit to sort of liking this period of slow motion. Moving to a new country turns routine experiences into minor triumphs. Yes, I got the right kind of detergent! I figured out how to do my taxes! I asked for directions in a foreign language!
I’m spending most of this week attempting further logistical victories. A friend of mine from Copenhagen is visiting next month, and I’m sure the first thing I’ll say to him when he arrives is ‘I haven’t seen you in ages.’
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