I’ve never been to an unfamiliar place. It’s true. In spite of all my travels and the many changes that I ran into along the way, I always feel right at home when visiting new lands. Admittedly, I’ve never been to the heart of wild Africa. Or the jungles of South America. Really, I’ve only been to pretty advanced locations. But still, when asking me about a foreign country, people always seem surprised when I say it was easy to adapt to.
They point to the difference in religion, food, and styles of clothing. And then comes the big sentence: “But the language is different!” they respond as though this summarizes everything. And to them, it does. That little change in means of speaking makes foreign countries seem like planets in a far away galaxy. Something exciting and exotic, but entirely unfamiliar. And to go there is to enter the land of OZ, where roads are made of yellow and everything is new and (shudder) different.
So I’ve taken to explaining it like this:
- They use silverware for their food.
- They have a special love for fluffy pillows.
- They heat their houses in the winter, and use fans/air conditioning in the summer.
- They drink milk to please their mothers.
- They drink coffee for themselves (preferably via Lattes).
- They eat vegetables to stay healthy.
- They prefer homemade soup from their moms when sick.
- Housewives still get addicted to soap operas.
- Men still keep up with sports teams/games.
- They worry about their weight (and hate on that one woman who never gets fat).
- The girls pack together in giggling masses.
- The boys try to look tough with spiked hair and turned-up collars.
- The girls are in love with boy bands (posters in every locker).
- The boys are in love with the girls.
- The men give women flowers, chocolate, and jewelry.
- The women give men ties, watches, and shirts.
- The men frequent bars, the women frequent stylists.
- Single women spend hours obsessing over hair, make-up, and nails.
- Married women complain about having caught their man.
- Fathers dote on daughters and give gruff handshakes and shoulder clasps to sons.
- Mothers stick their hand on their hip and point that finger at disobedient kids.
- Waving means hello/goodbye.
- Nodding means respect or thanks.
- Pushing means get out of the way.
- Cash means “how much.”
- They laugh when they’re happy.
- They yell when they’re mad.
- They cry when they’re hurt.
- They roll their eyes when annoyed.
But most importantly,
- When I cry, they hug me.
- When I get frustrated, they try to help.
- When I am lost, they give me a map.
- When I am sick, they give me cough drops.
- When I am bobbing my head to the music, they pull me into a dance.
- When I need help, they offer a hand.
- When I am hungry, they recognize growling tummy sounds.
- When I am hot, they fan me off.
- When I am dressed up, they tell me I’m pretty.
- When I am tired, they give me a seat.
- When I smile, they smile back.
Are there differences? Yes. In fact there are some pretty serious differences (I will never eat the delicacy that is dog. Let me throw in another period here for emphasis.). But so long as I’m in a country where the smile is universal, where mothers still exist, and where flowers are considered beautiful, it can never be that different from what I”m used to. Because those flowers will never fail to communicate gratitude. The mothers will always have an instinctive ability to understand what I need in an emergency. And the smile covers everything else.
What more could I need before it feels like home?