Recently, I was listening to a Rick Steve interview with David Sedaris. Throughout the interview Sedaris,
a satirical essayist and an American living in Europe, pointed out several key areas of consideration when traveling. He said to be alert when you are in
another area of the world. This can allow you to pick up on numerous social graces to newly visited places.
Being a teacher, this immediately made me think of my students. If they walk into a room and do not know what to do immediately, they sit,
watch, maybe converse briefly, and then act.
One of the most
interesting times I’ve experienced this (or the opposite) was in Prague. My fellow travel-mate and I had been in Europe for
about a week. We were flying from Zurich to Prague. Many airports are universal in practicalities; going through customs in a country
where you’ve never been can be confusing. If you stop and pause for ten seconds (literally) though, you can begin to grasp the concept. While in Prague, I was trying to figure out which line to get into to have my passport stamped. Though it seems obvious to
follow the crowd, it wasn’t. In European airports, it is important you know there are two lines for customs: European Union Nations
and Non-European Nations. We worked it out rather easily, but it was still hard not knowing what to do when we couldn’t follow the crowd.
The other point Sedaris made that I support
is to be consistently respectful. It is one thing to watch people; its another thing to act. Remember it is a blessing and a privilege to travel in
another country, and we should be aware of different customs. We are guests. Not to sound too parental, but if you walk into someone’s home and
there are five pairs of shoes by the door and the owner isn’t wearing shoes, it would be rude to say I want to keep my muddy shoes on because my
feet are cold.
The past year when in Quebec, my travel group was in a
small southwestern Quebecois town. The only eatery open late at night was a McDonald’s. As we walked up to the register, my students
noticed that every menu item was in French. The first student who walked up, did not think twice before saying, “Can I get a number five,
super-sized, with a Coke, and…..uh…..yeah, that’s it. Wait, and two apple pies,” in English. The next student walked up. “I would like a number two….”
you get the picture.
The McDonald’s attendant understood the students, but would have appreciated them ordering in the native tongue, French. Being a teacher, and in this case a travel teacher, it was
an immediate teaching point. The common response amongst most (after all it was their first international experience) was, “They oughta speak English". If it were Great Britain, the Olympic Village in Beijing, or an English tour of the UN, I might agree, but it was rude and inconsiderate.
I love to travel, but I dislike rude and ignorant travelers. Americans ought to be at the forefront when it comes to learning and accepting customs, languages
and being respectful and tactful of others.