I’ve been in Austin, Texas for a week; I have another week to go. Several people here, upon discovering that I’m a visitor, have asked me the same question:
“So what do you want to do while you’re here?”
I shrug. I’m up for anything. Most days I pick a neighborhood, stroll around, poke into coffee shops and cafes, and strike up conversations with random people.
Apparently this is rare. Many people think they need to travel with an hour-by-hour itinerary of events. They’ve got plans, maps and agendas that guide them from breakfast ‘til dessert.
If you only have 10 vacation days per year, this strategy makes sense. Losing one day through inefficiency – sleeping late, missing the train – equates to losing 10 percent of your annual time off from work. You feel pressured to fill that unscheduled gap between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The clock is ticking.
Unfortunately, this harried pace prevents the spontaneity that creates the most amusing chance encounters. I’m referring to the take-a-side-street, say-yes-to-invites, make-new-friends-in-strange-places spontaneity.
There’s a French word that expresses this idea: “flaneur.” This refers to someone who strolls around, without hurry and without haste, drinking the sights and sounds, ready to experience anything.
American actress and author Cornelia Otis Skinner describes a flaneur as “the deliberately aimless pedestrian, unencumbered by any obligation or sense of urgency, who, being French and therefore frugal, wastes nothing, including his time, which he spends with the leisurely discrimination of a gourmet, savoring the multiple flavors of his city.”
What a beautiful way to live. Frugal with time, yet unhurried.
The French have described the way I want to spend my time in the beautiful state of Texas.
Even if you only have 10 vacation days per year, dare yourself to try it. Resist the urge to jam-pack your days as if you were at a business conference. Stroll aimlessly. Talk to strangers.
Better yet, try it today, in your hometown. Take a side-street. Stroll into an art gallery. Meet someone new. You never know what’s around the corner, even those corners in your own backyard.
P.S. I have heard that some parts of French-speaking Canada use the word “flaneur” to refer to loiterers. That’s NOT the kind of aimless strolling I support.
P.P.S. Please don’t turn the comments section into a Texas vs. France debate. This ain’t the place.