I never ever imagined the word pandemic or quarantine becoming a part of my daily vocabulary. And yet it is. Wow. So many surprising things you learn from full-time travel.
A world pandemic is at the top of the list of surprising things you learn from full-time travel. I’ve said it many times, despite all the preparation and planning, reading and studying – there still are so many surprising things you see and learn and experience that you never ever imagined. Pandemic one of many.
So today I thought I would share some of these things, since we are still stuck indefinitely here on Cyprus (currently day four of a new three-week total lockdown), it’s a good time to write a blog about the things you don’t realize you will learn from full time travel. The lessons keep coming but here are a few that stand out for me;
How the World Views America
We try to be good ambassadors for our country, but it can be really hard. Because many people have a view of Americans as loud, selfish, gluttonous and most of all ignorant and misogynistic. The view also extends to American media as biased and unreliable.
Where are you from?
So we get this question a lot. Sometimes the question is phrased like this; “Where are you from? Australia? England?”
This always cracks me up because anyone who is a native English speaker is very in tuned to the nuances of those who speak English in the USA vs England, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland etc. But for those whose first language is not English the subtleties are often lost. It’s rare that we get asked if we are from the USA. I believe that is because the countries we are visiting for the most part aren’t often visited by Americans. We are often surprised by how surprised people are to meet someone from the United States.
But the other odd thing when we get asked this question is how the answer goes. We answer “From the United States”, and 95% of the time we get a blank uncomprehending stare. So we rephrase our answer and say “From America.” Ahhh light bulbs come on and faces light up, “Amerikah!”. Despite the fact there is no country called America…much of the world refers to the USA as America.
The USA is only one of three countries in the entire WORLD still not using the metric system (Myanmar and Liberia are the other two). I mean honestly people this needs to change. I have no choice but to learn the metric system as we travel and although I don’t have it down perfectly, yet it is an integral part of everyday life from cooking to driving to filling up the car with petrol. We think in Celsius and kilometers, meters and liters. You should give it a try.
Holy Days and Holidays
In the 110 countries we have now visited we have not visited anywhere that celebrates holy days and holidays by spending the amount of money Americans do on holidays. Most holidays are about family and church with minimal decorating and gift giving. One strange thing…they often leave the Christmas tree up (artificial) until spring.
Here is a win for the USA. I have been horrified by how some cultures behave on airplanes – ignoring and harassing flight attendants, barging up the aisle on landing and not letting other people get out into the aisle, as well as other rude behavior. We have found this particularly the case in Asian and African countries. In the USA this would be almost unheard of.
Dogs and Cats
It never occurred to me before beginning our travels that we would witness often horrifying conditions for dogs and cats around the world. I can’t and won’t describe some of the things we have seen…things I try to put out of my mind.
Before embarking on this full-time travel we had visited many countries in the nearly 40 years we have been married. Some of those countries we found communicating easy and others not so much. But in the past decade most countries have begun teaching English in schools and I can’t think of anywhere we have been in the past four years where we have not been able to speak in English to just about anyone we encounter. English is definitely becoming the world language.
Oh My God
This has become a travel joke for us. Everywhere we go, whether or not the place we are in speaks good English or not, the phrase “Oh my God” is used. It is sometimes the only English words some people know. It is used to express frustration and surprise. I’m not sure if most people even know what they are saying – it’s just a colloquial term used around the world similar to Uff Da or Oi Vey or Gesundheit. Oh my God.
Boy oh boy I sure don’t take clean drinking water for granted anymore. It is to me the biggest problem around the world, and it generates another gigantic problem – what to do with all that single use plastic?
There are some countries and cities making a huge effort. In Antigua Guatemala there are free filtered water stations. In Thailand you can refill giant water jugs for just pennies. Good on ya. I’d love to see this expand.
Germs and Hand Washing
We are all now washing our hands more than ever before. But one thing I have witnessed in most countries is very consistent hand washing already…way more than what I see in public places in the USA. Particularly in Muslim countries but in most other places too people wash not just after using the bathroom but frequently throughout the day, before and after meals and in both public and private places.
Hey guess what? Africa is really, really green. So many Hollywood movies and even NatGeo portray it as a barren brown place – and there are certainly some deserts and dry areas. But most of it is so beautiful and green and big and diverse. You really should go there. Any country…just choose one. They are all great.
I find myself in situations often while traveling that make me pause…what the heck am I doing? Things like being in a sinking boat in a hippopotamus infested lake, swimming next to the edge of Victoria Falls, hiking on a snowy mountain without clampons, standing 4 meters from a wild Silverback gorilla …crazy stuff. Stuff I wouldn’t be allowed to do in the USA because of much tighter laws and a litigation culture that keeps us away from danger. In most of the world, that is not the case.
You might think this is a funny category…and it is. But how did I never know how many kinds of mangos, bananas and so many other kinds of tropical fruit were waiting out there for me? There are 500 kinds of mangos for heavens sake! There are 1000 different kinds of bananas! Have you ever eaten a custard apple? How about a dragon fruit? What about a pomelo or jackfruit or langsat? I’ve been living a sheltered life.
Left or Right
Although most countries of the world drive on the right hand side of the road, it still is surprising how many countries drive on the left (including here in Cyprus, a former British colony). Even more surprising is a country like Myanmar, which switched from left-hand driving to right-hand driving in 2015 BUT 90% of the cars still have the steering wheel on the right side. Talk about disconcerting.
As toilet paper has become such a valuable commodity in the USA I’ve chuckled about how different Americans view the little white squares compared to the rest of the world. Many cultures don’t use paper…the sprayer attached to the toilet does the job. Many countries you must bring your own paper if you want it, and most countries you aren’t supposed to flush it. Including here on Cyprus where flushing is a no no. Systems are not designed to handle paper, and so it goes into the bin next to the toilet.
It may seem very strange if you haven’t lived somewhere like this but just like anything else you get used to it. I always have TP in my suitcase (and paper towels too) and always have some kind of tissue in my purse.
Have You Learned Anything
Have you learned anything crazy and surprising on your travels? Have you learned anything crazy and surprising from this blog? I could go on and on because there is so much more (cheap medical care, free universities, corrupt governments, government supported community days) that most Americans can’t comprehend.
For me it’s one of the absolutely best things about travel…an eyeopening experience to how the other 96.25% of the world lives. Because get over yourself…the USA is not the center of the universe and we should all try to be more neighborly and interested in our entire planet and the diverse peoples and cultures that make it such a wonderful place.
Don’t give up on travel…we will all hopefully be back traveling again in a few months. Just wash your hands.
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I guess you wanted to say „… NOT using the metric sytem…“ – otherwise is doesn‘t make sense. And anything based on 10 is easier to comprehend!March 27, 2020 at 8:15 am
Thanks. I made the correction.March 27, 2020 at 9:53 am
I also noticed that. Such an interesting commentary. It is funny how other cultures view Americans.March 27, 2020 at 8:57 am
Thanks so much Peggy.March 27, 2020 at 9:54 am
Great read, Laureen! I always enjoy your blogs! I have travelled some, although not even close compared to you! I’ve noticed how many people in other cultures are so much more relaxed. None of the hustle bustle, gotta get this done NOW that “America” seems to have. Yet, they still accomplish great things! In Peru, many people work a regular nine hour day, however, around 1 or 2:00 they take about 3 hours off for themselves. They return to work afterwards and get home just in time for dinner around 7 or 8:00. That way they can go to doctors‘ appointments, shopping, whatever needs to be done. i found that interesting.March 27, 2020 at 11:11 am
Yes. I’ve seen that too. And time with family or long meals together. No fast food or eating at your desk!March 27, 2020 at 11:36 am
Loved reading this post. All positive vibes your way. We also cancelled our recent trip and hopping to get back on road soon. Stay safe!March 27, 2020 at 11:22 am
Thank you!!March 27, 2020 at 11:37 am
I love your blog and your perspective on travel and culture. Travel does make one realize how privileged we are and you are so eloquent in sharing this fact. Stay well and stay safe.March 27, 2020 at 1:54 pm
Thank you Carla!March 28, 2020 at 10:29 am
Thanks for this very entertaining post! It brought back so many memories of when I first started traveling in the 70s and how different things are today. I am so disappointed that my late summer travel plans will probably be impossible, so I’ve been doing a lot of “virtual travelling” lately. So many sites that have “virtual tours”. Everything from the Aurora Borealus (in real time when possible) to tours of the great buildings of the world. Yesterday I “walked” the entire Great Wall of China. Not the same as doing the real thing, but my legs didn’t end up aching and I never had to catch my breath! It took a little under two hours, but only because I stopped to look at the view when I could.
These are trying times and I’d like to think I could handle the completely new challenges you are facing…but I wouldn’t mind being in your temporary postition; somewhere I could spend a quiet time in one lovely place. No doubt it would drive me nuts not to be able to meet with locals, sit in cafes and make plenty of side trips to local villages and sites.
As you know yesterday we were told there is a timeline on this viral pandemic and the U.S. will be up and running on Easter day. I wish that was true, but of course it’s not. I know you two will be sensible so I don’t have to worry about your getting sick. One thing I’m grateful for is that as of yesterday I hear a Denver lab has created a reliable test for detecting COVID-19 anti-bodies; showing those who have already been infected and may be immune. It is already available and now it’s almost ready to roll out.
I really want to spend time with Ben, so the idea of waiting for a vaccine (2 years probably) breaks my heart. I think it’s much more likely all his kids and grand kids will be infected by then, and I expect all of us will survive, probably with mild symptoms at most, despite our ages.
Stay safe. Enjoy as much as you can.
I love your blog and as I write my histories they help remind me that clarity and directness should always be the most important way to tell a story!March 27, 2020 at 3:27 pm
Thank you DennisMarch 28, 2020 at 10:29 am
Loved this blog Laureen! It gave me pause and made me laugh. Stay healthy – stay safe!March 27, 2020 at 4:38 pm
Thanks DebraMarch 28, 2020 at 10:29 am
We travel mostly in Central and South America. When they ask where we are from, we would say we were Americans. They would get a blank look on their faces…they too are Americans. So we learned to respond North America or United States.
We also learned that if we said we were from Washington, they interpreted that as Washington DC. We changed our answer to Seattle, Washington.March 28, 2020 at 10:25 am
ah yes…we always say Seattle. If someone doesn’t know where Seattle or Washington State is I say near Vancouver…many people know that.March 28, 2020 at 10:29 am