L’appel du vide: You’re waiting for the train when an inexplicable thought flashes into your mind: What if you jumped off the platform? Or perhaps you’re driving up some precarious mountain pass, when you feel strangely moved to jerk your steering wheel to the right and sail clear off the road. American psychologists in 2012 published a paper in which this feeling was dubbed the “high place phenomenon” (and their study suggested, by the way, that its presence does not necessarily signal suicidal ideation), but the French term for the phenomenon is much more alluring, as French words so often are: l’appel du vide, or “the call of the void.” As the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once observed, the emotion is so unsettling because of the way it “creates an unnerving, shaky sensation of not being able to trust one’s own instincts.” It’s a reminder, then, to perhaps not always let your emotions rule your behavior.
Awumbuk: It’s a funny thing about house guests. While they’re in your home and you’re tripping over the extra shoes and suitcases that are suddenly littered about your living room, you start dreaming about how nice it will be when they leave. Yet, after they do, your place often feels too empty. To the Baining people of Papua New Guinea, Smith writes, this feeling is so prevalent that it gets a name all to itself: awumbuk, or the feeling of “emptiness after visitors depart.” There is, luckily, a way of ridding the home of this rather melancholy feeling: Smith writes that “once their guests have left, the Baining fill a bowl with water and leave it overnight to absorb the festering air. The next day, the family rises very early and ceremonially flings the water into the trees, whereupon ordinary life resumes.” That’s one way to do it.