One of the things I pride myself on is always trying to be polite. Opening doors, please, thank you, very much a part of my etiquette armory. Now I didn’t think just that would get me through a trip through a foreign country but at least put me in a position to not make a butt out of myself.
I don’t think there’s really anything that prepares you for a place where you’re the foreigner, where your language isn’t the dominant one, but it all honesty I didn’t find it all that challenging. The truth is English really has been adopted as the universal language, our tour guide at the Vatican even said those exact words. In Spain and Italy there was only one place I visited that didn’t speak any English at all.
That being said, that doesn’t mean it was a smooth trip. There is still a barrier there that takes extra time and patience to get around, but that expectation makes it easier to do. Going in to it realizing that it will take some delicacy makes it no big deal to adjust, which is funny because I thought fairly often about people in my life that would struggle with it because they have such lack of patience here at home. But that’s the thing, maybe it’s because there isn’t that expectation that it will take a bit longer. It’s English at home and therefore it’s cut and dry, which of course it isn’t.
Learning a few basic words, being patient and polite I think made it very smooth, but even more so it was probably my body language. At home I try to operate with understanding and patience and a ‘no big deal it can be fixed’ attitude. That is really what made the trip smooth in my opinion. And I came back even more so not upset that things took longer.
And there were things outside of communicating with people at businesses. On the trains, in our tour groups there were stares and comments overheard about Americans, but I can’t control their thought process just enjoy myself and not be a nuisance.
The cliche ‘It doesn’t take any effort to wear a smile.’ comes to mind but for me it really is just one of my life philosophies of ‘Don’t be a jerk.’ and how pointless it is to get worked over stuff that really doesn’t matter in the long run or even just a few minutes from now. And I can tell you there were people on the trip that did get worked up and it’s just a drain. ‘You’re in Italy. How can that not trump it all?’ and that’s why I think I had an amazing trip. And actually something I brought back more of and feels good.
Drop the Mic Podcast: Culture Shock
(We also did a podcast talking about our various travels and the effects of culture shock for a more in depth conversation about it.)