It's day twenty one and the last day of the A-Z blog challenge (for me)! This month I shared all about my Christmas/New Year travels in NYC and Europe – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letter is Z for Zonked, the feeling we experienced as our trip came to a close and the revelations I had about my trip after we returned home. :)
Here are a few things I learned during my time there –
1. I am not the most important.
Yes, I have a blog. Yes, I write about myself. A LOT. But then I see a woman huddled up on an awning on the Paris streets trying to keep warm and get some sleep in the blistering cold using a plastic bag as a blanket. And an older man in tattered jeans that just crumpled to the ground near the Christmas Market in Dresden.
It really made me think about blogging and the luxurious life I live. I have access to whatever I need and people who support me no matter what. I have the opportunity to travel. What do those people have? Are their circumstances a result of their life choices?
And then I started wondering: What can I do with my blog to give back to the world? I provide reviews and help people with first world problems, but is that enough?
These are difficult questions, and ones, even months later, I don't have answers to. :(
2. We all share similar dreams of travel … and circumstances holding us back from achieving those dreams.
So, in case you haven't realized, I have friends that live in Germany. We've known eachother for about sixteen years (2000-ish). One in particular always talked about possibly coming to the US at some point. Then, while we were visiting, his parents mentioned going to Africa. So, my takeaway, was that Europeans travel a lot and don't think twice about it. It's like it's second nature to them.
Then Justin and I talked to an older cab driver in Paris. He mentioned having dreams of traveling to the US. "Someday," he said.
And you know what?
I could totally empathize!
I feel like, at least in the US, there is this stigma that you must have money to travel. And not a small amount. We are talking upper class. Or your job pays you to travel.
So when this middle class cab driver uses "travel" and "dream" in the same sentence, I totally understand. It's not that I still believe that you have to have money to travel, but I understand where that mindset comes from.
3. Learning a language is hard!
When we were in Europe the first time, I remember our friends going seamlessly from one country to the next, spouting the new language(s) as if it were their first. "Un macaron s'il vous plaît!" Whereas me… "Ein macaron bitte? … Oh wait! Wrong language! Ummm… Un… ummmm…" ;)
So, when our friends went with us to Prague and my husband spoke more Czech than them (even if it was only two phrases), is it wrong for me to say that I was elated? It was like "Score!" (with fist pump). "You don't know all of the languages! I'm not an idiot! Woot!"
Because as it turns out, learning a new language is hard. It's so unfair that those people who seamlessly go from one language to another make it look like child's play. It's not!
There are times when you zone out while trying to listen because you are overwhelmed, stressed, and trying so hard to get it right. Then there are those moments when you confuse a word from your first language with a word from your second (when listening or speaking). And what about the times when you know all of the words being said but it takes an additional 10 seconds (or more) for your brain to catch up?!
Of course, my friends still know more (languages) than me, but still. It was comforting to see that I'm not the only one to struggle with language-learning.
In the meantime, practice makes perfect. :)
4. New places provide a great opportunity to reinvent yourself.
When I was in Germany trying to use my left hand to hold my fork and my right hand to hold my knife during the entire dinner, it just felt wrong. In the US, eating like that, or shoveling food in your mouth, would most likely be considered rude. After all, the food isn't going anywhere! And the use of two tools, one so you can cut your food without ever putting the other down, implies that you need to eat your food fast! And while we do take our food to go and are known for having "fast food", we don't necessarily consider eating fast to be considerate or thoughtful, especially when others are at the table.
So here I am at the table of German friends with this conflict going on in my head. If I eat like them, I'm not being rude because that's how they eat. If I don't, I am potentially being rude. BUT that's how I eat. Even more: I am an American tourist and don't necessarily want to fit in. I don't want to be rude, but I like using one hand during meal time?
So I decide to compromise! I'll cut my meat and then just use the fork like normal. No one can complain about that, right?
Except that they can. Turns out that's rude too. :( Unless there are children around. *sigh*
My point: As a tourist, you get to choose which aspects of the culture you want to take on. You aren't expected to know all of the rules and customs. Does that make it right to break the rules that you do know? No, not necessarily. But it's up to you to decide which ones you follow and which ones you don't. You have to take into consideration not only your own feelings on the matter but also those of who you are with. Eventually you'll be able to determine exactly how much culture you need to acquire so that you don't offend the people you are with. :)
5. Understanding and empathy from both parties is imperative (if you are traveling with someone from another country and want to get along).
Remember how I said that it felt wrong for me to eat with two utensils? I meant that I was bringing an emotion into the situation. You know, like what happens when you do your budget and realize you overspent, or you get fired from your job. It's not necessarily something you are suppose to take personally but sometimes do. While it would certainly be understandable if the other party were to get mad at me for not conforming, I've gotta admit it made me more anxious to please when they weren't pushing me to conform. I appreciated that they understand how difficult and complicated it can be to fit into a new culture.
Just keep that in mind when you visit another country … or you have friends from another country visit you. Don't be quick to judge. If you "invite" them to dinner and they get up after the meal and just leave, it could be that they assume you were offering to pay for them. If they refuse to eat with both hands during the meal, it might be a mental or emotional struggle rather than a simple refusal to conform.
Have you ever believed something about another country or culture that you came to realize at a later time wasn't true? Have you ever believed something about yourself or your own country/culture that, as it turns out, is actually a worldwide thing?