On my recent trip to New York City, I met two French girls while in line to take the bus back to Washington DC. The bus was late and we had plenty of time to talk. They were in the United States for 3 weeks. They spent a week in New York City, were spending one night in DC, a week in Atlanta and the rest of their time in Florida. While in New York, their favorite stop was Staten Island because they got to see “real America” and “real Americans.”
I gave them ideas for 24 hours in DC. And we talked about Atlanta (I used to live near there). And when I saw them later in the bus station, I gave them advice how to get where they were staying (it was almost midnight).
But the entire interaction got me thinking. I love to travel far and near, but sometimes I forget that the United States is exotic to others. That this may be their “trip of a lifetime.” And just like when I go to France, Morocco or Dubai, I don’t want to only see the tourist sights. And when I travel, a random kind encounter with a local can make my day or even the entire trip.
So, when you are at home, don’t forget what it is like to be a tourist!
Help if people look lost. I see this every day in Washington DC. People standing on a street corner or at the metro looking at their phones or map. It is obvious they are trying to find their way. Remember those times that strangers have helped you. When I am frustrated by tourists or in a hurry, I try to remember the woman in Macedonia who didn’t speak English but noticed we were lost and walked us to our destination. I remember the guy in Rio who told us how to get to our destination, advised us not to walk and then threw in a dinner recommendation for later. We have all been there too many times to count.
Start up a conversation and give advice if you know the area. Everyone wants to make the most of their trip. They want to see what’s famous, but we all also want to see something off the beaten path. To discover something not in our travel book. These are the stories we tell when we get home. These are the memories that remain special.
Make a new friend. Don’t do anything dangerous, but if you hit it off with someone, reach out to them and make plans. One of my favorite memories in all of my travels is the day spent in Kosovo with Valon who I met outside a museum while asking for information. It was a risk (for both of us) but it turned out to be such a special day and we are still friends! I look forward to returning and seeing him again!
Be patient with the language and interject if you see an interaction when another local is less than kind or patient. We have all been there. I don’t speak a second language and have traveled to over 75 countries. Do you know how many strangers I’ve had to rely on to be patient with my hand gestures, bad pronunciation using a limited vocabulary or just outright speaking English? I can’t count that high. Pay it forward!!!
Remember that America has unique culture too. A few years ago, I was attending a baby shower at a local tea place. A Japanese couple was clearly interested and began taking pictures. And when we engaged, they began to ask questions. This is tradition fairly unique to the United States. There are hundreds of other examples. Off the top of my head: Thanksgiving. 4th of July. BBQs. Brunch and large breakfasts. In England when looking to rent a house, after a few minutes of looking around, the owner turned to her husband and said, “they call each other “dear” just like on TV.” Who knew the British don’t use the endearment “dear??” Embrace our unique culture. Share with others!