Saturday, October 19, 2013

There's No Place Like ...

Schmoozing with the captain.  (Not Capt. Steubing).

Lessons learned from a European cruise (that are totally incidental and not applicable to the American tourist as a whole, lest I be accused of generalizing too much):

Some Americans don’t like to be in foreign countries. 

They like to go home and tell people that they have been to foreign countries.

But while they are on their luxury cruise ship, which looks pretty much like a four-star hotel-from-home-on-water, they peek out their portholes at beautiful European hamlets and historical waterfronts, and complain, complain, complain, that it’s not like home.  It’s too hot.  It’s too cold.  It’s too steep.  It’s too far to walk.  The people don’t speak English.  The food is too rich.  It’s taking too long for the harbor officials to clear the ship for disembarking.  “Well, that’s the French for you! There are rules, and there are ‘French’ rules.”   The tiny TCK voice in me is outraged, embarrassed, angry.  “Why did you come here, if all you do is complain that it’s not like home?”

Portugese Tiles.

And lest I sound like a cynical, ungrateful be-yotch who does nothing but gripe about an opulent, ridiculously luxurious cruise provided by the generosity of her mother-in-law, whom she appreciates more than she could ever say, allow me to say that I, myself, had a wonderful time seeing places that I have to date only dreamt about.  I finally got to set foot in Portugal, that exotic place that tempted me last May but which, thanks to the buffoonery of United Airlines, I was prevented from seeing.  I was enchanted by the intricate tile-fronted buildings in Porto and by the tiny alleyways of Sintra.  I got to watch men building a wooden boat from scratch, and taste tawny and red Ferreira port at the very place where it was made.  I got to wander through the white towns of Andalusia in Spain, surrounded by rolling green hills, dotted with hundreds of modern windmill turbines.  I chuckled to myself that Don Quixote would have had his hands full battling those!

Mt. St. Michel

I finally got to climb the seemingly endless craggy steps to the top of Mont St. Michel in France.  My sister Lisa, when we lived in Belgium, had been there on a high school field trip.  I was mesmerized by the thought of a mysterious abbey on a rock island, only accessible at low tide, and cut off from the world when the sea came back to the land.  It was a sort of pilgrimage for me, to stand where my sister had once stood. 


My husband and I sat in a bistro on the sidewalks of Bordeaux and I resurrected my French language skills to order scallops in mushroom sauce, and a goat cheese salad.  Oh Em Gee.  I don’t remember tasting anything so exquisite. 

On the Garonne River in Bordeaux

I stood, in the rain, on the deck of our ship as we came into port in Bilbao, Spain.  When I was a little girl and we crossed the Pacific on freighters, my dad would stand with me on the deck as we came into port in Yokohama.  He explained how a little tugboat would come out to meet the ship.  The pilot would hop on and guide the ship through the channels safely.  It gave me a little nostalgic thrill to see the Spanish pilot do exactly that. 

So you can only imagine, that in light of my enchantment and my sensory thrills, it was a little disheartening to hear my fellow countrymen griping and bemoaning the ways of the Europeans.  My TCK snobbery was running at full tilt … it was so very hard not to respond to the complainers.  I tried to think of a non-confrontational thing to say, but the moments passed.  Perhaps I could have said, “Yes, but vive la difference, right?!” or “Yes, but we need to respect their laws since we are in their country.  We would expect the same of them when they visited our country, right?” 

On the other hand, we befriended several of the crew, many of whom were from the Philippines.  When I told them I longed for some Filipino food, they cooked a spread for me, and delivered it to my cabin when I was under the weather.  That, my friends, is kindness and hospitality.  I even sang the Filipino national anthem with them, resulting in lots of smiles and laughter. 

 Sigh … being a TCK is sometimes a curse.

Many people travel overseas only to realize that there’s no place like home.  For me, wherever I go is home, so any insult of the place, is an insult to me.  There is so much in the world to be appreciated and absorbed.  We shouldn't waste time longing for home.   

Gloria and me in Andalusia
Post Script:  I hit the ground running when we got home.  Work is a pleasure, exhausting, but still a pleasure.  My posts here may be few and far between, but I'm still here, thinking and viewing the world through my TCK rose-colored glasses.  I hope you'll stay tuned.  


Nancy Broussard said...

Liz, once again you speak what's on my mind far better than I could myself. My late father in law - who loved to travel as life itself - often said the same thing when he and my mom in law returned from their sojourns: "If they're going to complain so much, why did they take the trip?" Perhaps tickets should be issued with a cleverly worded "no whining" disclaimer!

dannie russell said...

you nailed it, liz. we global nomads are the fortunate ones. and.... let it be noted, for me, Home Is Where My Earrings Are.