Traveling is a funny thing. Most people expect it to be a relaxing and enjoyable experience - a time of creating happy memories. But the truth is, traveling can be REALLY frustrating, especially if it is for an extended period of time. I myself, after 15 years of traveling, still have daydreamy thoughts about what my next trip will be like, but even though I do that, I know the truth, and I know that this world is really the best classroom out there. It’s where we learn and grow. Now don’t misunderstand me, there will be times when things will be just like you imagined, but if you are living in another country for more than a couple of weeks, it won’t all be flowers and sunshine.
One of my very favorite things to learn about is other cultures. I am absolutely fascinated by them. I love discovering how other people live their lives, how they carry out their daily tasks, just how things function in another place. I can't get enough of it! But you know what…when I’m in the midst of it, a lot of it also annoys me A LOT! When I’m trying to live in it and nothing makes sense to me, I’m annoyed! I’ve grown so used to the ease of living in the United States. Most things are relatively easy to accomplish and can usually be done online, and other things are just what I’m used to. It doesn’t mean that it’s the best way, but it’s the way I know. So, when I have to figure out how it’s done in another place, it can be really confusing. Let me give you a few examples. For the sake of this particular blog, I’ll use Chile. Not because Chile is the most frustrating place, but because that’s where I’ve spend the most time and have learned the most lessons.
First, let’s talk about paying bills. The last time I lived in Chile, I didn't go through a program. So, I just showed up and had to figure things out. Just think about all the things we have to do and all the bills we have to pay on a regular basis. And think about how many accounts have to be set up or transferred when we move to a new home. It can really be a hassle, even in our home country. Luckily, I found someone willing to help me get an apartment, but unfortunately was told nothing about how to handle things like paying bills. I remember the day I received my first bill and had absolutely no idea what to do with it. Where was the return envelope? Ok, surely there’s a website on the bill where I can pay it… or maybe instructions? No and no. I was stumped. I let it sit on the counter for a few days as if I might suddenly know how to pay it, but finally I was like…how in the world am I supposed to pay this thing? A few days later, my roommate went to the grocery store. She came back talking about the long lines she had noticed winding through and out the door of the store, and…ding ding ding! That’s it! You have to go wait in a super long line in the grocery store to pay your utility bill. You don’t go to the utility company or pay it online because that would be ridiculous!
Moving on... buying produce. In the United States we fill our bag with apples, we carry it to the cashier, and there it’s weighed and the price is determined. Well, it turns out that in Chile it’s the norm is to fill your bag with apples, take it to the employee stationed in the produce section, and have them weigh and price it for you (which actually makes more sense). If you take it to the cashier, they will turn you away if it’s not already priced. How many times did I try to check out without first getting my produce weighed and priced? Anyone? Well, too many times to count. I just wasn’t used to it. Even after I knew what to do, I still forgot.
Finally, and most importantly, buying ice cream. I’m pretty sure this applies to places other than just ice cream parlors, but this is the one I remember. It involved both language and process barriers. It was my first time in Chile. I was only there for a 1 week exploratory trip and spoke no Spanish. Our group went for ice cream in one of those gelaterias, which is the most delicious ice cream you will ever eat! My friend and I stood in line with drool running down our chins, excited to place our order with the ice cream server (like we would in the U.S.), planning to pay after we received our treats. After a long wait, FINALLY it was our turn, but before we even started to order the server held out his hand… what did he want? We stood there staring at him. Seeing our confusion, he smiled and pointed us to the other end of the counter. We reluctantly backed out of line and headed to the other end with no idea what we were supposed to do. We stood there, looking around like idiots. I really can’t remember how we finally figured out that we were supposed to order there, but we did. Now the trick was to order! Since we were at the cashier, we couldn’t just point to what we wanted in the ice cream freezer, and we didn’t even know how to say scoop! We tried acting it out, only to be met with blank stares. We tried the English word “scoops” to no avail. Gahhhhhhh! Finally, the cashier thought she understood what we wanted. Horray!! We were successful in ordering! We paid and were given a ticket, then pointed back to the line where we had been waiting before. Salivating again, we attempted round two. I handed over my ticket and watched reluctantly as they prepared my treat on the back counter rather than scooping the flavor I wanted from the ice cream freezer in front of me. What was this that they were giving me?! That’s not at all what I ordered!! Flustered, I start pointing at the flavor I wanted and held up 2 fingers. Ohhh…two scoops of that! Yes, yes! Finally! Listen people, “bolas” is the word for scoops (in Chile anyway) and “manjar” is the word for caramel or dulce de leche in Chile. Don’t face the frustration I faced!
There are many more examples I could give you, but I’ll stop there. Even though some things can be extremely frustrating, the most important thing is to keep an open mind. Maybe the way they do it is actually better or maybe it’s just what they are used to. Either way, enjoy the differences and use whatever patience you have to get through those oh-so-confusing moments. Maybe even try to laugh at the situation or at yourself. Those experiences are part of what makes an adventure abroad. It may not seem like it at the time, but those things are also what create more understanding and accepting minds. So go on and frustrate the heck out of yourself. You’ll be a better person for it!