According to a recent report in the newspapers, a survey shows that Britons found the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and the Manneken Pis in Brussels among the most disappointing tourist attractions. This made me pause to recall my reactions to these exhibits and I re-lived my own delight at being fortunate enough to see both of them — and a lot more — in the course of our travels in the past decade.
Had I built up my expectations beforehand? Yes, oh yes!
Was I therefore disappointed? Not a chance!
Should I air my vote of satisfaction to my travel companions — or anyone else? No way!
Because, when it comes to tours you embark upon and places you visit, your little bubble of thrill and excitement is burst when you hear a bored voice or an over-critical one saying, “Oh, I expected something bigger!” or “We needed to spend more time there,” or “The itinerary ought to have been better planned,” or whatever other perceived failings there were in the sites, sightseeing and the tour as a whole.
Those — and similar — remarks are considered to be the knowledgeable statements of the well travelled, who have seen the world at a slightly higher level than everyone else; and my obvious and unrestrained delight with whatever is on display in whichever museum or palace or street corner we visit and my relish for every meal that is served up brings frowns and dismissive gestures from such companions, higher up on the food chain than I am, apparently.
“What do you know?” I am frequently asked — and I have to admit that I know very little indeed, whether it is about paintings or artefacts or places or people or local food.
True, I read up beforehand.
I carry along pages of notes and I take down further notes at each place.
And I too have expectations.
But I try to fix my sights upon one thing I really want to do in each place we go to, or one dish I really want to sample — and once that single objective is achieved, everything else is a bonus and everything else becomes a delight.
Of course, that simple rule of one-thing-to-look-forward-to does not seem logical or appealing to others. “It sets you up for greater disappointment in case you do not get to do that one thing you are fixated upon, and it displays too much ignorance of the many wonders there are everywhere,” they say.
“You want to see the Kon-Tiki museum and you’re OK with missing out on the Northern Lights on a visit to Scandinavia? Are you serious?”
“You go to Russia and say the only thing you want to see is the Amber Room at Catherine’s Palace! What about The Hermitage, the Metro stations, the Kremlin, Red Square, and–and–and …”
The lists of “ands” are always long and our trips are usually short. There are bound to be many places we miss seeing, many dishes we don’t get to taste, many markets we cannot spend enough time in. But, since we do get to visit the Amber Room in Russia and see the Kon-Tiki in Scandinavia and Count Vlad’s castle in Transylvania, and my rule-of-one is done on each tour, all the rest is icing on my cake and what we missed is not missed at all!
It seems simplistic to have low expectations to ensure happiness — but now we are told that that could very well be the case. Too many choices can be overwhelming and may create more difficulties than we can cope with.
Perhaps it is a good idea, then, not to search endlessly for the “best”, but to settle for what is good enough — in experiences, things, relationships — and life.
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.