Friday, May 13, 2016

Travel Faux Pas

In my 12 years of heavy travel, I’ve learn a lot of things that can’t be learned in any school. My experiences in travel have been the most lesson-rich in my life. I’ve traveled to Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, Canada, China, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia as well as 42 of the 50 states of my homeland.  I’ve mastered patience in the face of the stresses of airport security, taxi services, train stations, and international customs agency. I’m proficient in what I call “universal sign language” when trying to order food or find a bathroom.  I’ve learned to navigate through foreign countries where English is not the primary language, being mindful of customs and protocols. Though all my travels, I’ve learned (or affirmed) knowledge of… commonality of people….the need to accept things I have no control over….that smiles go a long way no matter where you go…that fear is mostly an illusion…that as long as I have a bed and running water, I can tolerate any quality of hotel room….that airline boarding agents, hotel housekeepers, and waiters/waitresses have hard jobs…yup, I’ve learned lots in my travels. I would say I’m a professional traveler…..but, that said, it has been through many a mistake that has given rise to this wisdom…

  • Example 1: During one of my many trips to Brazil, I was tasked with drafting a document in Portuguese….I know enough Portuguese (and universal sign language) to navigate socially on a minimal level but not much more. So, I resort to “Google Translate” to translate the document I had written in English. I asked a Brazilian colleague to review this document….which, after reading a couple of paragraphs, prompted a peculiar look….which turned into what I can only describe as a look of anger/disgust/embarrassment.  This prompted me to urgently call for my buddy, Marcelo (a Brazilian) to defuse what I was taking to be a “situation”. Upon reading the 1st few paragraphs of my document, Marcelo busted out in hysterical laughter….apparently I had somehow written a reference to inspecting “breasts”….not my intention…still, to this day, not sure what phrase in English translated to the Brazilian slang term for “boobs”…..but I was mortified and devastatingly embarrassed. Thank God this lady new me well enough to know I meant no disrespect….but….NEVER TRUST GOOGLE TRANSLATE!

  • Example 2: Prior to my visit to Saudi Arabia, I was coached by my friend who’s from Saudi on the do’s/don’ts of social customs in this most fundamental of Islamic countries. One of the things my buddy stressed emphatically was to not be in close quarters with a Saudi women as it’s a major no-no to be with a lady not your wife or close relative….simple enough. Steer clear of the women…gotcha…Well, my 1st morning in Jeddah, I enter the hotel elevator, my head down as I’m checking e-mails on my smartphone. I press the button for the lobby and continue to read my e-mails. The moment the door closes, I sense that I’m not alone in the elevator. I turn to look behind me and see a Saudi women, completed coved in a veil/hajib/whatever. She is slowing turning away from me to face the back of the elevator and move towards the corner….HOLY S#%T!!!  I AM GOING TO DIE….all sorts of thoughts are racing through my head….her husband will be waiting in lobby as the door opens, sees me with his wife…..AND KILL ME!....Longest elevator ride of my life!  When the door opened, I quickly glanced out and…not ran…but walked real fast out of that lift and in the opposite direction of the women I had inadvertently shamed….Lesson learn: Be aware of your surroundings…put the damned phone away when walking…don’t get into an elevator blindly…especially in Saudi Arabia….if there is a Saudi women, all veiled up and in elevator alone, be in Saudi Arabia or anywhere, let her have the elevator to herself…take the fracking stairs if you must….

I can list other mistakes but, in a nutshell, I've been afforded plenty of experiences around the world that have taught me things you will never find in a text book.