February 28, 2021

A Travelers Journey- Lessons Learned Abroad Vol 7

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One week is not a lot of time to get to know 22 other backpackers, but I made an attempt to have at least one conversation with each person on my bus tour through the UK. I’m pretty sure I succeeded, even though the conversation I had with Jen, a girl from Taiwan who spoke very broken English, was pretty much lost in translation, although I think we were talking about photography because she kept pointing to my camera.

The fact that she spoke any English at all was impressive, I mean, I sure as hell didn’t know any Taiwanese or any of the 11 other languages spoken in Taiwan. A word of advice for anyone who ever travels overseas: Don’t just expect everyone you meet to speak English. For them, there is nothing ruder than for us to start rattling off English like it’s the international language.
Has a Japanese tourist ever asked you for directions in Japanese? Of course not, they save the Japanese to talk about you right in front of your face for making fun of their broken English. Are we just too lazy to make the effort, or too arrogant to even try?

Well, either way, lucky for us Americans, most foreigners, especially the younger people, do speak very good English. And if you take the time to learn a few simple phrases in their language, they will be more than happy to continue the conversation in your language. You’d be surprised how far a little respect will get you. Once, while at a train station in Berlin, I noticed a young American and his wife looking up at the train schedule with puzzled looks. They were apparently in a hurry, and getting frustrated, the young man yelled out over the crowd, “For the love of God, does anyone in this f#cking country speak English?” No one stopped to help. A second later I overheard a German woman say to her friend in perfect English, “All he had to do was ask nicely!”

But in the UK, even in remote parts of Wales and Scotland, English was as good as gold. However, if you didn’t listen carefully, you might think they were speaking a foreign language. Our bus driver, John, was Scottish to the bone and was from Edinburgh. His knowledge of British history and his never ending joke telling kept us well entertained. I’m not sure if anyone else thought he was funny, but I almost fell out of my seat a few times. Now maybe he wasn’t funny at all, but the way he laughed at himself after every little joke he made, now that was funny. On the day that we were to cross the border from England into Scotland, he played the entire three hour soundtrack from Braveheart while wearing a kilt, complete with a sword, battle helmet, and the Scottish flag draped around his neck. It was nice to see someone so proud of where they were from. It’s funny, because here in the U.S., if you drape the flag around you, and unless you are Rocky Balboa, people will immediately say that you are being disrespectful. It’s a piece of cloth! How can you be disrespectful to an inanimate object? In fact, I found out that there is an entire code of regulations pertaining to the treatment of the U.S. flag. And people take this really seriously. Perhaps a better and more useful code would be one that pertains to the treatment of one another. For some people, I suppose their bible suffices for that purpose. But unfortunately, every religion has its own version of the “bible.”

So who is right? Or are we just all wrong for letting our religions put up walls between us when we should be breaking them down?

Don’t get me wrong, I think religions can serve a wonderful purpose in that they give us moral standards to live by, but at the same time, they are also “dividing lines” that for centuries have been the cause of war and oppression. Why must we hold on so tightly to a system of beliefs? And why must we be told what to believe in the first place? Doesn’t the idea of learning who you are and your place in this world by using a little introspection and self-discovery seem much more natural and logical than by just simply adopting a code because of how you were raised or where you are from? For me personally, finding the answers on my own is much more meaningful than having them spoon-fed to me.

I guess it can be best summed up with a simple analogy: Put two people in the middle of a deep dark forest and tell them to find their way out. Give one of them a detailed map of the forest, some food and water to last a few days, and a gun. To the other one give nothing.

Now of course, the one with the map will most likely find his way out relatively quickly by simply reading the map. The other person however, may possibly spend weeks being lost, making wrong turns, trying to find food and water, all while trying to avoid being eaten by wild animals. But if he uses his own instincts and learns from his mistakes, he will eventually make it out.

Now, my question is this. Of these two people, which has a better understanding of the forest and how to survive in it?

I think the same can be said of our world.

-By David Melancon

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