"" Writer's Wanderings: The Traveling Ambassador

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Traveling Ambassador

Homework. We all hated it as a kid. If you are about to embark on the trip of a lifetime or just a nice time away from the usual work at home (I almost said homework), you need to do some research. Research is a nicer word than homework. Why research, you ask? Because if you are off to another area of the country or the world, you are about to be an ambassador.

Let's face it. We all label people by the region of the country or world where they live. In the USA, west coast, east coast, north, south or midwest, we are all a little different in our way of life and often in the way we speak. Certainly the differences in language and custom are accentuated when we visit a foreign country. Often our perception of a group of people is based on one or two we have met from that region. Sadly if the encounter was not a good one, it can leave a bad impression.

So, I'm back to homework. When you are planning your trip take time to notice some of the cultural differences especially the ones that are extremely different from yours. Check out the cuisine of the area. The food may be a little challenging to your palette and  if you know that ahead of time, you can adjust your expectations and plan on eating what you think you can handle. There is less chance that you will offend someone and thereby, you become a good ambassador representing all those back home and paving the way for the next traveler to be received warmly.

I remember a trip to Orlando back in the 70s when my parents took our families to Disney World. Dad didn't know that the hotel only had a buffet breakfast and he couldn't get his egg over easy on toast like usual. While it was a great trip, we all cringed every morning when he complained about the scrambled eggs he was forced to eat. Dad would not have made a good traveler. I'm sure that hotel breakfast staff was glad to see our trip end and those Northerners go home.

And then there was the Texan in London. I assumed he was Texan with his drawl and big 10 gallon cowboy hat. We were having breakfast in what was normally a quiet atmosphere in the hotel dining room. Brits are pretty quiet when they are not in a pub. (See, I'm classifying as well.) The waitress brought the man his "American breakfast" which was sausage, beans, eggs, toast, and some kind of potato. The sausage is not like what we usually get in the US and not many people eat baked beans in the morning. And who knows what kind of usual breakfast is served in Texas? Like my dad, it wasn't what he expected. He bellowed his disapproval to the whole restaurant. "Darlin' that's not an American breakfast!" I could see others around me giving each other a look and a nod as if to say, "another loud and rude American." I cringed.

Be a good ambassador when you travel. Be flexible. Put a little adventure into your life and try something new. And above all, be respectful. You are visiting someone else's homeland and that's the purpose of travel--to experience new things, different things, meet new people. Use a little diplomacy.

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