The Beauty of Traveling

Since I don’t watch TV and knows Europe fairly well, I was interested to listen to Rick Steves, the popular Television host, specialist of Europe travel. He opened the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall in Fresno last week.
His goal is to encourage Americans to leave their expectations and beliefs behind when they visit Europe and instead meet the locals. He isn’t asking to share their ideals and life style but to accept that Europeans can favor things that are foreign to Americans. I agree with him and I encourage Europeans to do the same when they visit the USA.
When my parents came for the first time to California in the early 90s, my father admitted that his colleagues had encouraged him to bring his own food, warning him that he would starve in the USA. They told him he wouldn’t find any bread, no wine, and that he would only eat sandwiches. None of them had ever set foot in the USA but my father was a little concerned that he would miss his baguette and camembert.
After only two days, he was reassured to see the bounty of fresh produce in the supermarkets. He ate Chinese, Mexican and Japanese take out for the first time in his life. And he loved American BBQ with corn on the cob when corn was then in France grown to feed pigs.
My dad had been warned that Americans only speak English and wouldn’t talk to a French man. He accompanied me to a garden tour once. Since he lives in Normandy and only waters his garden and flowers in July and August when temperatures climb exceptionally above 90F for a few days, he had never seen a drip line irrigation system and was intrigued. My father admired the tomatoes that grow under the heat of our California summer. He was so curious that he forgot he didn’t speak English and asked questions to the garden owner in …French. I translated for both of them and soon the two men were involved in a gardening conversation involving tips and advice from both sides. The language barriers fall when people find out they share a passion.
My mom kept forgetting that Americans don’t speak French on a daily basis. Whenever she entered a shop she greeted people with a “Bonjour”. I reminded her that Americans say “Hi” but in the meantime more than once everybody had already replied, “Bonjour to you too.”
She was surprised when I bought colorful pots of mums for my yard. “This is a plant for the dead,” she said flatly. I had forgotten that Chrysanthemums are plants the French display in cemeteries on All Saints Day, Halloween for us.
When my fourth child was born my parents came to help out. Among their tasks, my father had to drive his granddaughters to school. I reminded him that in the USA we pass stop signs on a first come first serve basis. Once, he was confused and waited while it was his turn. The three other drivers waited and waved to him so he drove ahead. He said that this stop sign business would never work in France where everybody would claim being first and that he was impressed by American drivers’ courtesy.
My parents were lucky to discover the USA the way they did. When they returned to France, my father told his colleagues that he actually ate fresh fruit and vegetables, that the bread wasn’t that bad and that the French should watch out because California wine was pretty good. My mom had learned the word “Hi” and discovered that in some countries chrysanthemums symbolize the fall season and not death. Both agreed that the Americans they met didn’t match the definition they received back in France.
As for me, a few things still surprise me in the USA, and some do too when I return to my native France.
Rick Steves has the last word: the beauty of traveling is that it remains the best way to trigger curiosity and open our horizons beyond the safety of home.

%d bloggers like this: