Abroad Perspective: So Far, So Good

Over the last year I wanted to share with you the cultural differences and challenges you may encounter during international travel. Visiting other countries can be eye-opening and broaden your views on day-to-day life.

Vacation is all about enjoying those experiences we do not usually have. My own adventure will see me moving out of state, and will undoubtedly give me yet another perspective on living in the US. As a conclusion to this series, I have compiled my favorite outtakes.

Getting Around

Wherever you go in Europe, make sure that you have a basic idea of the distances you will be negotiating. You may not even have to rent a car to get around.

When you do have a car, and 13.5 hours to spare, you could drive from Italy’s capital to Berlin in Germany. This translates to getting from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles, California. Two states versus three countries. Ever since I moved to the US, distances have never been the same.

Optimize Your Vacation

Vacation manners go a long way, even if you visit your destination only once. Learning some phrases or words in the local language is a great first step.

Let’s face it, many people all over the world speak English, so the incentive is not apparent. However, you will quickly notice how much people appreciate you trying to speak their language. All languages are not created equal, but trying is well worth the effort. Bring a pocket-sized phrase book or, better still, try this free app that features many popular languages.

Know What to Expect

If you are not used to people jumping the line, waiting for anything in Italy may be shocking. It is common to ask who the last person in line is, which will force you to pay attention so you know when you are next. If you do see an orderly line, chances are that everyone around you is a tourist.

On the other hand, something that never occurred to me while I was living in Europe: the doggy bag. The cultural phenomenon of taking food home is nearly absent from European restaurants, even though it has its origins in ancient Rome (the napkins that the Romans used for personal hygiene turned out to be handy to package leftovers).

The Dinner Takes It All

The way we eat around the world sets us apart more than you would think. I am not simply referring to the different foods we consume, but to the dining experience itself. Restaurants seem to be the culmination of cultural differences.

Before you dig in, you should know about the “Continental Style.” This refers to keeping your fork in your left hand and the knife in your right hand, without putting the knife down, once you are done cutting. The knife goes in the right hand, regardless of what your dominant hand is. This also avoids any “cutting collisions” when you sit next to someone. No need for restaurant stress though: The most important thing is that you are comfortable while you are dining.

Years ago I displayed poor etiquette at a small restaurant in Italy:

One time in Rome, I received a gentle reminder of the fact that my choice of silverware was not on par with Italian standards. That very night I felt a little under the weather and had a difficult time getting my bucatini (thick spaghetti with a hole in the center) under control. Most other diners were sitting outside, so I thought I was in the clear to cut my pasta.

As if the “foreigner-is-cutting-pasta-alarm” went off in the kitchen, the chef himself showed up at our table, holding a spoon in front of him. He handed it to me merely saying “Signore…” (“Sir…”). The sight of me using a spoon as an aid to my fork must have been more bearable to this proud Italian chef.

Quench Your Thirst

Surprised by a glass of water that I did not order, I learned quickly that dining in America is very possible without actually ordering any drinks. This puzzled me somewhat from a business standpoint, but it’s a wonderful service. Throughout the meal, the server replenished my water and I left the restaurant a well-nourished and well-hydrated man.

I also noticed the enormous amount of ice in my drink. Sure, I don’t care much for warm water, but this was some serious polar stuff. I am not a fan of ice cubes traveling towards my face at high speeds when I try to take a sip of water. Whenever I am on a flight, I always make sure to let the flight attendant know that I do not want ice in my small drink.

Spend (On) Your Vacation

I have to admit that drive-up ATMs have grown on me. Not being familiar with those in Europe, I was pretty excited when I stumbled upon them here in the states. I was used to stand-up ATMS and having to deal with potential “shoulder surfers.” I had to master enrolling friends and family to be human shields to protect my PIN. Either way, you will lose the tunes and your comfortable car seat when you withdraw cash in Europe.

While this is goodbye from me to the readers, the tips, tricks and information will keep coming through your Global Discovery Vacations blog. Stay tuned, and continue sharing your wonderful travel stories with us!

Ray originally hails from The Hague, Netherlands and one day showed up at Global Discovery Vacations’ doorstep. When he is not traveling or writing, you might find him engaged in playing ping pong, swimming or planting tulips.