Tourist season is upon us! In a few short days we will witness the largest mass exodus of city-dwellers, suburbanites and country folk to well...the country, the city and anywhere but suburbia! As we finalize last minute bookings and packing lists there is one thing we need to make sure we keep in check -- and that's our manners. Any worldly traveler knows how to mix and mingle with the locals while taking in the sights, sounds and tasty fare. My cousin is traveling to Europe with her husband for the first time and a flood of memories and recent experiences prompted me to recall our own learnings over the years.
Whether you're traveling near or far, there are some regional tips and general etiquette that all tourists should keep in mind. As a Canadian, I'm calling out my fellow Canucks for our sometimes judgemental attitude towards those less Great-White-North-knowing. Yes, we too exhibit our own lack of knowledge and understanding when we leave the land of the maple leaf at times. And dear American friends, what can I say, please consider reviewing these rules as you wait in customs and fumble through our colour-coded money -- why yes, we did colour code it to make it easier for you to read Canadian (why yes, that was sarcasm -- it's a Canadian currency of its own).
The Top 10 Rules for being a worldly traveler:
1. If it ain't yours don't take it! -- First rule we were taught as kids, don't take someone else's toys. This applies to rocks, shells, signs, indigenous plants and flowers, and someone else's boyfriend. Despite your latest read at book club, he or she hasn't been waiting for you to complete them. And believe us long distance relationships are really for the birds!
2. Check the serving size before ordering. -- We too are just as guilty as anyone who's traveled to the U.S. and ordered a small 'soda' at the local Wendy's only to be handed a trough, and exclaimed out loud "Oh My God! Who could ever consume that much liquid in one day?" and "who on earth would actually order the extra large?" Take it from me, they can and they do! Its hawt down south and you have to keep yourself hydrated. Sidenote: This applies to food as well. Just follow the 2:1 rule -- 2 can eat 1 meal in the U.S. and 1 needs 2 servings in the rest of the world.
3. Mind the tip -- Many a European traveler has balked at the idea of leaving a tip because across many parts of Europe servers are paid decently and don't expect a tip. A token dollar or two would be considered a kind gesture there, but may speak to poor service or displeasure when visiting North America. There is so much information online about local culture and customs but honestly just observe those around you and do as the Romans do.
4. When in Rome -- Speaking of Romans, different strokes for different folks, and some might say different expectations. When we traveled across Europe we hastily realized that toilet paper and hot water were commodities. Those thick, fluffy rolls are not generally or readily available. Our vocal displeasure at some of the paid loo's was met with indignation at our aloof and spoiled attitudes. This also applies to how people do business or offer services. We witnessed one cowboy yell at a local antique vendor because she wouldn't haggle with him on her set price. Not everyone is working at a straw market and if bartering is your sport, find a country that plays it.
5. Don't stare -- The instantaneous ease of capturing a cool picture or rare sighting may seem normal to you but in lots of places and cultures, it's still not acceptable. As tempting as it is to capture a shirtless Jethro getting out of his El Camino to fill'er up in bare feet while wearing a rope to hold up his pants (true story), it's not worth the beating. On a more serious note this would extend to those, like the Amish, who don their traditional cultural or religious dress. Unless he's the 'Naked Cowboy', get permission to snap away. Same goes for staring and pointing -- locals are not on display for you and your interest may just invite an unwanted new friend looking for a sponsor in your home country.
6. Watch your step -- One of the first things I warned my cousin about was to watch where she walked in Paris. The Parisans love their dogs, the smaller the better, and don't take umbrage with fifi's little peepees, and not so little poupons - on the sidewalk. Strut your stuff like a local and practice your side steps and tiptoe walks. Otherwise, opt for some Crocs.
7. Keeping it real -- Don't try to talk to a local in their local accent. Especially if that accent is their attempt at English! Closer to home, having an American ask a Canadian "how's aboot that bout, eh" is just as annoying as telling a New Yorker to "fuggetaboutid" and a southerner "now ya'll take care, ya hear." It's only cute when you're five. And back to the French for a second. I remember being informed that while they appreciated the effort, they didn't have the time to decode our Franglais in a busy touristy area. Just speak clearly in English or whatever major language you know and figure it out together.
8. Don't leave a Mark -- Lots of people are tempted to leave a piece of themselves to commemorate their presence at a location. This can happen in a number of ways -- knowingly and unknowingly. From inscribing your initials on a tree or a monument to touching anything on display at a museum or heritage building. After a terse scolding on the irreparable damage and wear the oils on our fingertips had inflicted on some artifacts and frames we 'touched', we committed to using our eyes and not our hands to 'see' things...just as Mrs. Liptack had taught us in Kindergarten.
9. Bring your own condiments -- Not everyone eats the way we do. Ketchup on fries is popular in North America while mayonnaise is the preferred choice in Europe, and vinegar, well, that's for cleaning windows in the U.S....(I jest...but really they rarely eat fries that way). When eating out expect that you are going to try the local 'taste' for that food. In Italy we learned that Pizza has a very thin, crispy crust that's been fire-baked and is topped with fragrant olive oils. When one of us (me) asked for "real pizza" the exasperated waiter exclaimed "stupid Americanos." We smugly laughed at how Canadians can get away with just about anything.
10. Learn about the locals -- A friend of mine shared this great story about how his aunt in PEI was overseeing some Texan teenagers who were working on 'the gentle island' over the summer. In complete astonishment one of them asked "how did ya'll get Wendy on your license plates." It took her a minute to realize they were talking about the image of Anne of Green Gables on some of the customized plates. It's called Google people, look it up.
The best way to earn your worldly traveler card is to do some research, immerse yourself in the local culture, forgo your personal expectations and constraints, be respectful and appreciate the entire experience for what it is -- an adventure! And just to be safe, sew on a Canadian flag patch! Happy Travels Jessica and Jacques!