A handful of high maintenance is how some people describe me, or at least, how some would have described me. Prior to my first lengthy experience abroad, I was a different person, in my mind anyway. I would hope those that knew me before I lived in Italy would be able to agree. Let us not focus on how uptight I was previous to my 9 months in Torino, but more so on how watching and conversing with people from various cultures and how traipsing around Europe and Africa changed me for the better. Some of these may seem like common sense, but even so, they’re still helpful and rather important.
- Don’t get so easily offended.
Being from Texas where the majority of the population is quite amiable, this was difficult. If someone doesn’t smile back at you or wave or say “please” or “thank you”, don’t take it personally. Some cultures are more quiet. As Americans, we’re generally pretty boastful and tend to think it rude if one doesn’t hold a conversation well. We, also, are usually big on personal space, so if someone invades your little bubble to explain something to you or give you welcome kisses on the cheeks, don’t overreact (and don’t automatically think they’re coming on to you – but in my experience, they very well could be. Haha). Additionally, this could bode well in everyday life. Unless you’re a mind reader, you are not aware of what is going on in everyone’s life around you… maybe she didn’t respond back with a kind “hello” because she just lost her grandmother. Maybe he yelled at you because he’s in an argument with his significant other. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and then, murder them with manners or kill them with kindness, whichever phrase you prefer, my darlings.
2. You CAN’T control everything.
Okay you control freaks (which I can say because I used to be one). If your flight is delayed, get over it. If your bus never comes, get over it. If they won’t split your check… what do you do? Get over it. Unless you happen to be in an episode of Burn Notice where you’re being held hostage in a foreign country with no means of communication to the outside world, then your situation could be worse! Catch the next flight. Get a cab. Pay with cash.
3. People are actually nice if you let them be.
So many people I met were unbelievably helpful and kind to me throughout my travels. “Oh, but the French are rude and snobby.” No. They’re only as nice as you are. “Taxi drivers are creepy.” Or they’re just making conversation to make the night go by faster until they can have dinner with their family. Remember the Golden Rule – treat others as you would like to be treated.
4. That guy trying to sell you flowers is just trying to make a living.
If you let her paint on your hand, pay her. If you watch them sing or video him dancing, leave a dollar. If he tries pushing flowers in your hand, either buy one for a couple of bucks or say “no, thank you”, “no, grazie”, “no, shukraan”. They’re just trying to make some money for dinner, not swindle you for all you have, even though it may seem like it.
5. You are not better than anyone.
This doesn’t need any explanation, but if you are truly confused, I beg of you to contact me.
6. Keep your belongings close.
Once they’re close, bring them closer! As nice as people can be, we all know there are some evil seeds that have sprouted. More than half of the students on the Italian program with me had possessions stolen from them from pickpockets (including myself, and I had my purse zipped up and in front of me with my hand on it when someone took my phone – although at that point, they earned it). If you wear a backpack, make sure it’s not just a zippered one. That baby needs to zip, clip, latch, etc., and if you’re ever in a crowd, put it on in front of you no matter how dorky you look. Do not keep your wallet, cell phone, ID, mustache comb in your back pocket! You’re just asking for it.
7.Always have cash.
No ATM? No credit card reader? Not a problem, my dear. You always have cash, right?
8. Trying is a sign of respect.
Learn the best words of every country you visit. If you have a bad memory, write them down phonetically for yourself. “Thank you”, “Please”, “Excuse me”, “Another bottle of wine, please” – the best words. Ask politely, and locals will assist you with them. You won’t need Google translate (and probably won’t have wi-fi to use it). Every once in a while, you might piss someone off by pronouncing something too slowly or incorrectly, but usually locals are impressed, get super excited and really appreciate the attempt.
9. Yes. I’d love another.
Some countries find it rude to deny a favor being offered. In Italy, it’s limoncello (a delicious and strong, lemon liquor native to this country). Many restaurants will offer free limoncello at the end of the meal. Drink it and be merry! Tip: this is NOT a shot, ya animals, but a sipping beverage that tends to be served in a shot glass.
10. Meals are events.
In many cultures such as Italian, Spanish and the like, residents take long breaks for lunch that usually last around 2-3 hours. Shops close, rest is taken after a large meal and the world is quiet outside. Dinner can last just as long, as it is generally taken with the entire family and ends late – how else should it be? Family time is a priority.
11. Get outside!
Whether it’s raining or snowing or as cold as Jack Frost’s bum, go explore. Walk in the park under your umbrella as the rain cleans the air you breath. Dance through the streets as snow kisses your nose and brings silence to the city. Grab a pair of gloves as you search for the best cup of mulled wine to heat your blood. This being said, it is okay to just do nothing every once in a while, especially if your body is asking. You do you, boo.
12. Don’t be afraid to travel alone.
Start conversations. Make new friends, new connections. Be a part of this world by spreading your network from Slovakia to New Zealand and back, and when you’re in their country, you have a friend.
13. There is no need to post every beautiful thing you see.
Enjoy some things for yourself, so when you think back to it, you can smile and know that it’s yours.
14. Bartering is a skill that can be acquired.
Streets markets have no set price, but be reasonable. You can usually tell when someone hand-made something versus purchasing it for resale. Ask how much. Low-ball them, then go from there. Show me your po-po-po-poker face.
15. Walk a lot.
It’s cheap – only costs you some energy. It’s shows appreciation for those two wonderful legs you have. You almost see and experience the world in slow motion. There’s no need to take a mental note to go back to that one place on that long street when you fly by it on a tour bus – which are nice for ‘when that was built’ and ‘what happened there’, but don’t rely solely on them for your tourist purposes.
This post could probably go on forever, but I think this is enough for now. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. I will do my best to answer them.
After experiencing all of the above, I have become a more understanding and malleable human being. The little things don’t bother me so much anymore. I don’t cry over rotten cheese – instead I cut off the mold and eat the middle (don’t say you’ve never done it). Being alone is no longer an embarrassment or a fear. Traveling, having dinner or seeing a movie by yourself is empowering and you can really “find yourself”. It’s a cliché for a reason, y’all. Until next time.