I recently had lunch with myself in Amsterdam.
I met me under the outdoor clock at Central Station and, as pre-arranged, did an interview at a nearby restaurant. Anyone bothering to notice us would have just seen two middle-aged women, laughing over coffee, pulling out reporters' notebooks at the exact same moment, and trying to hear each other over the clanging sound of the multiple bracelets we both wore on our wrists.
We're googlegangers, doppelgoogles, or as a New Yorker magazine cartoon aptly put it: Google doppelgangers. We're virtual duplicates revealed through the Internet -- with the particular help of the supremo search engine Google. I was already aware of the existence of my own ghostly double long before "to google" another person (or even yourself) became a verb used in popular culture.
Out of cyberspace, straight from my own personal global matrix of e-contacts, a connection was originally made few years ago. I received an e-mail one day requesting an interview on the subject I write and publish books about: global living. A journalist bearing my very own name, writing for a Dutch daily financial newspaper in Amsterdam, had tracked me down through my Web site. It was intriguing to open my e-mail that morning and see my own name pop up as both sender and receiver.
Sharing my exact name is actually harder than it would seem. My given name is a nickname shortened from another name seen only in my passport and on my driver's licence. My family name was also shortened by my father in a previous generation. I never took my husband's name.
Now, a couple of years and e-mails later, there we were, two women with the same name walking down a lane on a crisp, fall day in the Netherlands; two journalists, both mothers of two children, and close enough in age to be of the same generation. Both of us received early reporting experience in broadcast news. While I have authored several books about international mobility and travel, my cyber counterpart has contributed to at least one. We would both pop up together if someone were to amazon.com us.
Our similarities stopped abruptly at our hair. I am reminded of this by a picture a tourist took of us (which arrived by e-mail). Her long, straight black hair is more than an ocean removed from my wild and curly, sort-of-blond hair. We're definitely not related. She's British married to a Dutch man while I'm Canadian to the core (born and raised in Toronto), married to someone from Winnipeg, living in North Vancouver. While I apprenticed with the CBC, my virtual namesake worked for the BBC.
Still, in conversation it turned out we are both technophobes (ironic considering that we were introduced by our computers) and both spent a time in our lives living in Asia: she with her British military father and me with a foreign service husband.
And now, here we were getting to know each in other in a hole-in-the-wall Amsterdam restaurant. Naturally, I had brought maple candies for her children. It was simply a delightful lunch altogether.
Before I took the trip, I was asked a lot by my friends why I was arranging the meeting.
The idea of playing a first-person role in a simple tale of globalization was enormously appealing to me. And I was going to be in Europe on business and this seemed a distraction that was fun and offbeat. It's also a happy piece, for a change, about the world shrinking.
There is no new horrible fear arriving by plane, or being introduced in the press, to traumatize a reader. This story about feeling confident and trusting enough to open up to a virtual, (literally) stranger.
There's no consumer angle except for having to buy this newspaper. Reading this simple story won't send anyone out to engage in the rampant materialism supposedly necessary to fuel the global economy, although it's true: we bought lunch.
In this story, no culture is being endangered or victimized by Western hegemony as we are told so often is the dark side of globalization. It's a real, human, cross-cultural story of finding commonalities and letting the rest take care of itself.
When our lunch was over, a picture snapped, and promises to keep in touch made (and to send each other copies of whatever we decided to write about our meeting), we hugged and parted ways, smiling as we re-entered our real lives, the kind you can touch. Of course, we immediately e-mailed to say we must do lunch again, soon.
And in the meantime, if I ever get to Australia, I'm going to look up a dance critic who lives there, going by the same name as me.
Robin Pascoe is a writer living in North Vancouver.