3 Unconventional Approaches to Meet the Unexpected with Their Pros and Cons

The Unexpected—A Saucer Tale

This story starts in Manchester, England. My wife and I were waiting for our flight home after a lovely holiday.

I picked up my cup. I found a saucer.

Now, I know that may not be a surprise to most folks used to cups and saucers. But this one was exceptional. The hole where my cup sat was off-center. The cup-shaped circular depression wasn’t in the middle where it was supposed to be. It didn’t fit my preconceptions about the way the cup and saucer universe is supposed to be. Cups go on saucers where the nicely centered indentation provides a home.

What do you do when things in your universe take a turn?

I told my wife.

Like many other novelties, we were at first amused. But I took a look at the tea bag that she had on her saucer and found that the longer edge of the saucer allowed it much more room. It would more likely not fall off as I have seen other teabags do. The cookie on my plate fit better, as well. I was glad for a design that would keep it from falling off.

All in all, the change seemed practical.

Our conversation then wandered to other novelties that we had seen.

At one lunch, for example, my son-in-law, his niece, my grandson, and I ordered “chips” with our lunch.

And we got the English version. We were surprised instead with so many French fries that even with the help of my wife and daughter, we could not eat them all. Besides, we probably didn’t need to eat that many fries. It turns out that if you want potato chips in England, you need to order “crisps.”

We knew that chips in England were French fries before we went into the restaurant. After all, we’d had fish and chips the night before. But that didn’t help us when it came to ordering lunch. The wrong words come pouring right out of the recesses we call brains straight from the automatic place that lets us talk without having to think about every word.

After that lunch we were all on high alert. Any mention of “chips” was challenged particularly when placing a food order to be sure the person was using the word in the right context and not just unintentionally.

The “chip” revelation was amusing, sort of—but more along the line of annoying. Oh, it wasn’t annoyance with the Brits. It was exasperation with ourselves because we knew better.

The big surprise on our trip was discovering that cars travel on the “wrong” side of the road. Or, at least, they travel on the wrong side as far as Americans are concerned. Three of the six of us had been to England before. We knew the ropes.

Ha! A lot of good knowing did us. Remember the chips? We knew better there, as well. We had a lifetime of looking one way, but looking at the wrong lane to watch for cars that weren’t going to go the way we expected meant we had to be very, very careful.

Like big city drivers everywhere, Londoners were focused and in a hurry. Just walking the streets was a tad more dangerous for us in England than what we were used to at home. Another reason to be careful.

You and I know some basic things about walking in a city. You have to pay attention. You have to be sure that you are walking with the lights instead of against them. You want to try to walk where drivers expect walkers to be.

All those are straightforward. That does not mean they are easily followed in a city where

  • Cross walks are marked differently
  • Street names are posted above your head on buildings instead of posts
  • Stoplights are on posts at eye level often and not dangling from cross wires
  • You have to look the wrong way to find the traffic

That means that this particular difference because we were in England between what we “know” and what we “saw” is way beyond amusing or annoying. It is dangerous. Mistakes have severe consequences.

Luckily, the British know the problem well. Along almost every curb now is an arrow and notice: “Look this way.” That helped—a lot. And we were very careful. I remember my daughter pulling me back onto the sidewalk when I made a wrong step into the street some 25 years ago the first time I’d visited London when there were no such helpful notifications. That early experience taught me to be wary.

The real issue, of course, is what to do when you encounter strangeness—saucers that are shaped wrong, words that don’t work right, and cars that won’t do the expected?

Ugly American

We can chose to rant and rave about these differences as if loud, thoughtless commentary will make us or anyone around us feel better about the situation. As obnoxious as that may sound, we’ve all seen it happen. One member of my family was notorious for sharing her opinion as loudly as possible. “How can people eat that stuff?” seemed to be a favorite.

Aren’t you the least bit sympathetic with that approach? We often want to rant when we meet the unexpected, don’t we? Just think about staying in a new place. Whose bright idea was it to put the toilet paper dispenser where you couldn’t reach it? Or worse, where did they hide the spares?

We’ve all have

  • Slept in beds that didn’t fit
  • Felt discomfort when the temperature was not right
  • Squinted at too much sun or been appalled at how often it rained
  • Missed meals that we wanted to taste more like those at home

Sometimes it just seems right to want to complain out loud, regardless of whoever might be hurt or offended or that nothing will change.

Hide and Hope It Goes Away

Ever heard of agoraphobia? It is anxiety at the thought of strange spaces, uncontrollable social situations, and unfamiliar places. It can literally keep people from moving out and about. The response? Don’t go to strange places, parties, and countries.

But, where is the fun in that? It hardly seems like a good idea to spend all that money to get to an exotic destination just to hide from the very things that make the place exotic. Besides, if you don’t go or get out and about when you do go, you’ll also never find out the right word for potato chips. The old maxim applies: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Wait It Out

Of course, a vacation will eventually go away. So, if the trip really upsets your applecart, you can just wait. Sure enough, time will pass and you’ll go home again.

Vacations are one thing, but not all situations in life will go away. For example

  • You become disappointed with a relocation
  • Your life has been complicated by a new medical condition
  • You lost someone dear and face a more solitary future
  • You retire and the door is closed behind you

These situations will not go away. You may not be able to go home again.

It is hard to lift that cup and experience the novelty. Each of these situations may feel more like the traffic came from the wrong direction and wiped you out.

What do you do then?

Try the Ugly American Thing

Go ahead and rant and rave. Some times your commotion can be cathartic. Get it out.

Then? Let it go.

You can revisit the feelings periodically, if you like. I advise to not move in with them. Don’t let them consume you. Struggle to find a new “normal.”

Personally, I’m heartened to know that this is not the first change I’ve ever faced. It probably won’t be the last. I was able to marshal resources to help last time. Perhaps, those same avenues may be of assistance this time.

The trick is not to dwell on “if only” but to start asking “what if?”

Try the Hiding Thing

You may be able to ignore the change for a while. Sooner or later, however, you’ll have to move on to some kind of new normal.

If you react to the situation by hiding, you have little control, and you’ll likely be more frustrated as time progresses. Proactively seeking how to adjust will help put you back into the driver’s seat. You may not achieve the same level of control you had previously, but you won’t receive any level if you keep hiding from possibilities.

Take time to imagine and explore options, as well as test limits. Figure out some small steps that you can try in order to move forward. Finding a community of support is important too. Some situations are helped a great deal if you talk to others who’ve been there. Find out what they’ve done and how they’ve coped.

Try the Waiting Thing

Time will pass. Often these situations will never go away. In other words you may not be able to “wait it out.”

However, time can heal. The drama and pain that accompanied the change can lessen while the benefits of a new normal can give you a hold on a promise for the future.

Which, brings us back to where we began: The saucer. A little off-center. A surprise. A disappointment to our expectations. And yet, a new, possibly practical approach.

I hope in the final analysis, you can turn to your spouse or a friend and say, “Would you look at that!”

Seen any saucers lately? What changes are you struggling with?

Ed Zinkiewicz

…the retired guy

Want to know more? Ed publishes webinars, hosts a podcast repository, and publishes other blog posts. Sign up here for his newsletter and get notices when something new is available that will enhance your retirement.


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