When I first came to Germany, back in 1996, one of the strangest aspects of culture shock was what I called "unspontaneous dancing". I'd been alerted to this to some extent in Austrian ski resorts, but this still couldn't prepare me for the weirdly robotic and joyless spectacle of what the Germans call Disco Fox
. The low point had to be seeing a couple grimly going through the mechanical motions to Smoke on the Water
. It was enough to make me want hail a taxi to the airport and hop on the first plane back.
Of course, these days, hailing taxis and hopping on planes seem like quaint memories of the past. We have all read enough articles showing how the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated trends in behaviour that were going on anyway. I commented already some years ago about the reduction of (positive) surprise
in our lives, both online and offline
It's apparent in communication and keeping in touch, where phone calls are scheduled, both business and private, and even meetings with friends are organised with the precision of a military operation - aided and abetted by all sorts of apps and software as well as both virtual and real assistants, planners, coaches and organisers.
Even before the crisis, the entire travel, hospitality and leisure industry was going this way with all-important checks on TripAdvisor, and extensive online research even for a trip to the pub. Serendipity was already on its way out of the window for many people who pooh-poohed the "real god of travellers":
All the strangeness, all the distinctiveness of a country will utterly escape you as you are led and your steps are no longer guided by the real god of travellers, chance. - Stefan Zweig, 1926 'To Travel or be Travelled'
After all, who needs strangeness? These days, "stranger" equals "danger" more than ever.
As the world emerges from lockdown, it's clear that chance should play as small a role as possible. It's a world where everything should be controlled, scheduled and traced. Safety and security have become idealised virtues: stay safe, safe spaces. Safety is what is known. Or what we think is known, that is, predictable. And we are armed with templates, frameworks, algorithms and tools
to box in, clarify and capture anything that might care to be numinous, elusive or inexplicable.
But, I wonder. While jumping on planes with gay abandon and merrily ticking off bucket-lists might become a thing of the past, maybe more conscious travel and the knowledge that things don't always go to plan may just open a door to discovering things off the beaten track?
And with social distancing the order of the day could those standardised dance moves foxtrot their way back to the 1980s and make room for something a little more inventive and expressive?