Whenever anyone asks me why I travel abroad, one of my answers has got to be that it makes me laugh. Laugh at myself. Laugh at the world. Traveling really is a great confidence booster because it perpetually reminds you that life is bewildering and ridiculous.
All beginning travelers try to get it all right. Things start making sense, you get through security with no hiccups and you start to tell yourself “I’ve got this. I own this traveling thing.” BOOM! You inevitablly trip on the carpet, land flat on your face, and watch as your suitcase crashes to the ground exposing socks and clothes to all and sundry. Yes, that happened to me. I landed nose to the floor smack in front of the hotel doors and had four lovely bellhops standing around in shock and awe.
It was a 5-star hotel with highly important people milling around. I just got in because the school had a group rate and wanted to impress us. Olympians, you will recognize this place because it’s where you stayed during the Beijing games. But trust me, few Olympians have accomplished the sheer magnitude of that landing. I hit with all the style that only an overweight little German dumpling can accomplish. It was glorious.
Which brings me back to my point, traveling makes me laugh. You really can’t help it, because with the world as crazy as it is, you either laugh or cry. It helps that between the adrenaline and slight hysteria that comes with all new adventures, everything becomes SO much funnier.
You just never catch a break when you adventure outside of your comfort zone. There are cultural differences, natural differences, and of course utterly random differences. I recently visited China and Korea, and if asked to compare them, one thing really comes to mind–hotel rules. You can slip into the culture really quickly, but spend hours trying to negotiate proper hotel etiquette. The worst part about traveling in Asia is the lack of good clothes washing abilities. Hotels often don’t come with washers and never have dryers so you generally find yourself sending anything that needs pressed out to dry-cleaning. The problem was that in Korea you had to bag up your clothes and carry them to the desk.So down I went with my suit pants to ask where I should leave them only to get the look.
I guarantee that you have seen it before. It’s the “you have four eyes, two heads, and purple spots” look that gets me every time.
Yep, that one. Women are the worst about it-sometimes they cock their head and twist their eyebrow just right to somehow suggests that you have missed the fact that your mother was an alien, you father kin to a horned rabbit, and you perfectly blend both into one monstrosity. It’s annoying because you can’t ever tell precisely why you got the look. Sometimes its because you just committed the social faux pas of the century. Then again, occasionally it’s just that they have been snob-faces so long that their muscles have atrophied into that position permanently. And sometimes, it’s really a messy combination of the two.
The lady at the front desk gave me the ultimate version of the look when I showed her my pants. It was like I had marched down the elevator waving an arm full of lingerie screaming for all to hear “LOOK! I am a heathen and I want you to all see my underthings! Yes, these are the underthings of a country bumpkin with no social conscience.” Apparently, this lovely Chinese hotel wanted you to leave them in the room to be picked up, not “drug” through the lobby on full display. My first instinct was humiliation, the second was to roll on the floor laughing. I mean, it was so snotty and so out of my control, I just couldn’t help myself. She never did quite forgive me for the sheer indignity of what I put her through. What made it even funnier was that one of the professors did the same thing, got the same look, and found it just as hilarious.
The best part though was when we find out the person cleaning our rooms and walking around the drying bras and underwear was a guy. After the first time one of us walked in on him, we all found it pretty funny. Right up until the day I stepped out of the shower only to find one of the cleaning dudes walking into the room. Apparently they don’t knock so you were somehow supposed to know ahead of time that a dude would just show up. Trust me, it wasn’t in the hotel etiquette rule book (I should write one of those!)
That is one of my favorite parts about traveling; nothing can humiliate you. You figure out that life and everything in it is just strange. Frequent travelers all know that they will do something awkward at least once in every location. Something is guaranteed to trip you up, knock you down, or get you the look. The best part, it is completely out of your control. Cultures are different; and sometimes the differences don’t make any sense. And the odds are against you–when you spend 80% of your time walking in and out of hotel doors, you are definitely going to fall on your face at least once. But when you are beset so consistently by the strange and embarrassing, eventually you learn the vital life lesson. Just Laugh!