When “See You Later” Doesn’t Mean See You Later

I recently stumbled across the article Don’t Drink the Water on YahooNews by Christy Karras about what foreign travel guide books say about people in the United States.

Some of the tips I could have guessed, like one from Japan talking about how American food is not subtle. Americans like bold flavors from all around the world, especially if our over-indulgence in salt is any indicator.

Others I found slightly ironic, such as a tip from Latin America telling its travelers to not drink the water and instead buy bottled water.

A few more made me pause and think about the stark differences in some countries. Another Japanese manuel tells of how it is not impolite to laugh with your mouth open, in fact many Americans laugh often with mouths wide open and teeth showing. In Japan, showing one’s teeth is deemed offensive, men typically don’t laugh and women cover their mouths with their hands when they smile. Imagine how shocked someone from Japan would be without those words of advice. Likewise, imagine how many people an American, with no knowledge of this rule, would offend.

Similarly, a few Russian tips advise against gifts that could be seen as bribery (which is shockingly illegal in the US), that American women want to be treated as equals and that Americans are really as cheerful as we are portrayed.

I honestly hadn’t thought about it beforehand, but the idea that bribery wasn’t illegal in the modern world was a bit unexpected.

Similarly, that women wouldn’t be treated as equals in business ventures is offensive to me. In 2014 I figured this would be a nonissue in major countries and that it has to be put as a travelers tip is astounding.

One tip that was reverberated in a few countries tip list is “See you later,” doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll actually see them later. I can see how this would be confusing, sometimes in new friendships the phrase is confusing to myself and I’ve had years of experience using the phrase over the phone and as a good-bye.

So, should you be traveling, it’s definitely a good idea to get a traveler’s guide of social etiquitte and things that might be health issues to avoid being the typical rude and overbearing American in a Hawaiin t-shirt with a fanny pack who demands English be spoken wherever they go. 

Around the World in 21 Years

I’ve been gifted and cursed with many and frequent travels. As a military brat I’ve been boomeranged through southern United States and I’ve spent hours (days in the time processing skills of a 7-year-old) on planes flying to and from Europe.

Through the military (and times before then) I have spent time in Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Idaho, Alabama, Georgia, Germany and most recently England.


A beach in the Bahamas

On top of being told by the big bosses where to move, I’ve traveled to wherever we could reach, which while I was younger was something that I absolutely hated and had no appreciation for. On the top of my head, I can think of remembering visits to Italy, France, Poland, Switzerland, Austria, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, California, Virginia, Montana, Washington D.C. (I’m sure I’ll be reminded of a few I’ve forgotten.)


Big Ben

When I was younger, traveling was boring. Hiking through the Black Forest to find a “waterfall” that was 3 feet high was excruciating, driving through Poland to find cheap pottery was dreadful, and spending hours being shoved this way and that during Mardi Gras in Italy was terrifying.

Moving was even worse. Each time I packed up, I left friends and the familiar behind. Each move I was sure I would be completely miserable and terribly lonely. For the move to Germany, I was totally afraid of being shoved into a place I knew nothing about. Not the language, not the culture, not the road signs, without the safety of being surrounded by family, something I had grown accustomed to.

Looking back though, I am incredibly grateful. I’ve been to parts of the world most people can only dream of visiting. I’ve visited museum after museum and learned history first hand, not through a dusty book. I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, tramped through a rainforest, climbed the Eiffel tower, gone skiing on the Alps, and swam in the clear Caribbean waters.


The Eiffel Tower

Each place I met someone new. I learned about a culture vastly different from my own, picked up bits and pieces of different languages, and learned to get to know people before I decided against them.

From my time in Germany. To a little kid, the German language is gruff. The people are blunt.They stand closer to you than Americans would. But get to know them and you’ll find a surprisingly healthy population, with little old ladies riding their bikes through town. The guttural languages hides kind and charming personalities. And they are much more open to newcomers, with the people in Germany being more welcome even through a language barrier than some of our neighbors in the United States.


An old church in Germany

So, if you can, I beg you to travel. Throw yourself into something unfamiliar. Going to an all inclusive resort is nice, but you won’t truly experience any culture but the inside of a 5-star bedroom and heated pool. Visit the monuments, walk in the downtown areas and explore hole-in-the-wall restaurants that turn out to have the best Gelato, ever, in the history of the world. (That might be an exaggeration, but only slightly.)

“Andere Länder, andere Sitten.” -German proverb. Translation: “Other counties, other customs.” (It really means, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.)