Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Traveling and Culture

One of the things I most love about traveling is immersing myself in a different culture. I do not go into my trips expecting to like everything, or having it be like it is at home. Inherently, it isn't, or people wouldn't feel the need to go explore the world at all.
I notice things reading other websites and blogs, mostly in reviews, about people's expectations not being met. Whether it's poor service at a restaurant, a hotel not being up to par, or just generally not understanding the people to begin with. I think this comes down to poor preparation. Especially when traveling in a pre-packaged tour. There are very few I would do, and among those I respect would be the Rick Steves tours because I know at least he explains how things are where you're going. This is an important part of your trip and, in my opinion, can make or break your experience. Here's an example:
Recently, we had a temp co-worker in my office who overheard Boy Wonder and I discussing our trip to Italy. She made remarks about how her daughter went the year prior and had a horrific time, that it was the worst thing she'd ever done, and she'd never do it again. Now obviously I'm going to take this with a grain of salt. I'd been to Europe a few times, and not just to English speaking places, so I asked what it was that was so awful. It came down to, you guessed it, poor understanding and general ignorance. First off, this girl is in her early 20's, and old enough to do her own research, as is her mother. (Plus having this nifty internet thing now!) So the first thing she complains about to me is that they wouldn't take American money. I said, um, Europe has been on the euro for 10 years now, why would you assume that? She said well no one told us. I responded, but why wouldn't you look up basic things like money and weather? No answer. Second, she said her daughter and her boyfriend were "mugged". Well, safety and security are pretty important. Its one of the first things I research. Where are the danger zones? But really, just don't look flashy and wear huge jewelry. It's that simple. Then she complained about the hostels they stayed in. They were dormitory style. I said how do you think most students can afford to go?
The lesson here is this: do enough research so most things like that won't surprise you. For instance, when I read complaints about restaurant service in Italy, its mostly due to people not understanding how the eating experience is there. A great audio piece on the Rick Steves site (which you can also download the app Rick Steves Audio Europe for free and get it also) is on Italian food culture. The different between American restaurants and Italian is that they don't rush you. Eating is part of the bonding experience for them. The waiter isn't going to keep hounding you, or bringing you the check to get you out of there quicker. They savor the food, and the conversation. Relax! You're on holiday for Pete's sake!
Little things like learning a few words in their language is also appreciated. We received very good service due to that, even though my Italian is far from perfect. You're spending some significant money to go see these places. It's up to you to cover your bases and lessen your worry. Take the time to look things up and if you need some help, there are links on the right side of this blog.

Remember, your holiday is what you make of it. Don't let it go sour because you didn't do your part!

Ciao and buon viaggio!

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