A few months ago, Olumide Abimbola, wrote an excellent column about becoming so used to a place that you no longer notice the obvious or everyday things that make the place unusual or noteworthy. He wrote:
There is a thing about being so close to something that one does not see it anymore. Anthropologists normally refer to it as going native. You have gone native when you no longer see the obvious things anymore, when the things that an outsider notices stares you in the face but you are no longer able to see them. This is usually because you have developed a blind spot for them, and they have become normal, almost natural.
There is also the other kind of blind spot, the kind that comes from being native. Anthropologists know about that too very well. Since we study people, we know that studying people of ones kind comes with the added requirement of being able to stand back and look critically in order to see things that would be obvious to foreigners, but that are not obvious to the native.
Abimbola is writing specifically about anthropologists and their work, but I think anyone who lives in a foreign country for an extended period comes down with native blindness. I noticed a mild case of it in myself a few weeks ago when I bought a pair of headphones. Wanting to make sure they worked, I asked the salesman if he could open the packaging so I could test them out. He obliged and I ended up purchasing them. About two seconds after I left the store the salesman swung open the front door and flung the packaging into the street, doing his part to keep Chennai garbage strewn. (Indian advertising uses the words “eco friendly” a lot, but nobody seems to care about littering; I’ve seen more unicorns in Chennai than public garbage cans.) It’s a tiny example, for sure, but I’m certain I overlook dozens of incidents like this every day, as I slowly and inadvertently train myself to not see.