Dear Travel Cocktail Drinkers,
There are some times that you just have to admit that not all plans or places turn out to be the way you imagine them. Having fallen in love with Italy at the age of 14 after a brief introduction from Diane Lane, I decided that I was going to not only learn to speak the language but also write an award winning novel within the year. So far, I can name the words I speak in Italian on one hand. For example, the term, bimba, means little boy. I am not sure why that was the only word that stuck out of the ENTIRE book of Italian for Idiots, but there you go.
My ill-fated love affair with the Italian Culture continued after reading a best-seller by Elizabeth Gilbert, a fallen woman who journeys to Italy, India, and Bali to rediscover the passion for life that she has somehow lost in pursuit of normalcy. This year, I literally discovered a book entitled, Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It, written by the women who took Liz’s advice. The book talked about various women who had gone on pilgrimages to discover their inner peace, God, or a sense of wholeness in their souls. You have to give credit to the woman who stood up and said, “I think I deserve something beautiful” (Gilbert, Eat Pray Love). And really, don’t we all?
I think that people make the pilgrimage to Italy not to discover the mythical without but to indulge and cultivate the magnificent within their souls, and I have felt the distinct call of the country on several occasions. My first voyage to Italy was five years and some change ago. It wasn’t perfect. It did not quench my soul, but it did make me realize several things about travelling.
First, pick who you travel with carefully. The most beautiful places can be tainted with bad company and worse attitudes. I don’t even remember the name of the girl I went to Florence and Milan with, but I do remember she had the flu. The disease had rendered her incompetent, and I had to play tour guide and nurse maid. It was the longest 10 days of my life. This trip, I have come to Italy with my sister and am optimistic about the outcome.
Secondly, you must be prepared to be a tourist. Tourist is synonymous with cash cow or voyeur in some cultures. The Italians love tourists because tourists are fish out of water which means easy money and a certain degree of humorous gullibility. I have found that many popular sightseeing destinations have locals that feel some kind of way about visitors. To avoid being labelled as a nuisance, I always try to learn a few phrases in the native language; thank you is never out of style btw..
Doing your research on local customs can also help you to navigate daily social situations and save you a lot of grief. For example, I had an older man cut in front of me in the ATM Line in Budapest and then expected me to hold his cane for him. At first, I was annoyed feeling that the man was rude by not waiting his turn, but I have since discovered that gender equality for his culture is different. As an older man, he definitely thought that I was the one not minding my manners by not automatically letting a senior male pass me.
Knowledge is power when it comes to travel. Knowing the cultural norms will help you fit in, cause you and your hosts less stress, and also demonstrate respect. Don’t expect everyone else in the world to act and believe the same way you are accustomed to because they have an entirely different perspective and culture. Globalization is about spreading cultural knowledge and cultural respect. You can’t achieve that goal if you inadvertently make an a** out of yourself. Italians can pick out “tourists” a mile away. Be prepared for the label and surprise your cultural hosts by not falling to their already low standards.
This trip to Italy has been one for the record books already. Maggie and I have spent the last 24 hours going from train, to taxi, to airport, to taxi, to hotel, etc… It has been a long day to say the least. One day we are going to laugh about this afternoon, but I am not sure if it will be tomorrow or the day after.
Our first hotel that we had booked online turned out to be a disaster! With a 9.2 satisfaction rating on booking.com, you would think that the place we had so carefully chosen would look like the pictures, right? Wrong. Our 2 bedroom family suite morphed into a B&B from hell run by an angry Japanese man who insisted angrily that the single bed in the small room would comfortably fit 4 people. Needless to say, I never thought my first day in Rome would involve an angry Asian running around, screaming, “MAMA MIA,” at the top of his lungs because we asked for a full refund. We got it settled because my sister Maggie is an expert negotiator, and finally checked into our new hotel across town about 5 hours later.
Now having discovered that our first cab driver stole 50 Euro from me in our money exchange, I am not feeling super charitable towards the Italian populace. Maggie might actually start agreeing that Italy hates me, but that’s okay. This is going the be the BEST TRIP EVER starting tomorrow because I am with my sister and one of my absolute favorite soul mates. And since we started with Liz, I feel like she wouldn’t mind me quoting her one last time: “ A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life.”…or in this case, travel to Rome.