Most people today travel because they want to enjoy new experiences, meet people from different cultures, see unusual sights and explore new places. And travellers are wise enough to research the places they’re going to. Apps, the internet and all the screens that are at our disposal make finding out about new places and cultures pretty easy.
Gone are the days when a vacation was spent lying on a beach being fried to a crisp – and very little else. And when we’re travelling abroad we expect different languages, new food experiences, religious and cultural differences, societies structured in a way we’re not used to, unexpected attitudes and more.
It’s all part of the fun and a strong factor in the many things that make travelling so enriching. And if we’re visiting India, China, Cuba, South Africa, Singapore, Bali, Mali…. then we expect to experience a great number of different things. But that’s not so much the case for people travelling in North America, Europe, Scandinavia and so on. Somehow we don’t expect those places to differ too much from home, especially if there’s no language barrier.
That is, of course, a myth. You only have to think about the difference between the American language and the English one to realise that having a language ‘in common’ causes more problems than any foreign language ever could.
Even if you’re travelling within the same country, there are many regional differences. For Instance, here in South Florida, we residents dress in winter clothes – scarves, gloves, boots, hats and so on – if the temperature dips below seventy degrees. We laugh at the tourists from further north who are clad in shorts and t-shirts – and they laugh at us.
So here are some of the elements of your trip that might surprise you unless you are sure to keep an open mind:
- As mentioned above, temperature. But almost all places you’re likely to visit can be unseasonably warm, or cold, especially these days. Don’t assume that absolutely everywhere you go will have central air conditioning or central heating. Many people choose not to use these for environmental or economic reasons
- Plumbing. I’m not American and I come from a country that has plumbing that is far more robust than here in South Florida. I imagine that other places in North American have better plumbing than we do here. Don’t assume (as I did) that you can throw anything you like down a loo or that you’re going to get fabulous water pressure for your shower
- Hot water. Again for economic or ecological reasons, some individual bed & breakfast establishments, small hotels or Airbnb rentals may only have hot water available at certain times rather than 24 hours a day
- Don’t expect to find the foods that you eat at home. Part of the fun of travelling is experiencing regional dishes. I found a hilarious website (it wasn’t supposed to be funny) on which Americans said that the foods they had missed when abroad were Fruit Loops, peanut butter, mac & cheese, Oreos and similarly barely edible monstrosities. One American complained that rather than having her usual microwaved burrito snack meal she had to ‘make do’ when she was in Spain with sliced jambon, olives and a glass of local wine. Poor thing
- Local or regional slang. I sometimes think that my other half and I only understand what the other is saying because were come from the same small town. Take for example a simple can of Coca Cola. What is the generic term for a carbonated beverage? Where I was brought up, it’s ‘pop’ as it is in some areas of America. But in other areas of the States, it’s ‘soda’. (some combine the two and use ‘soda pop’) or ‘fizzy drink’
- Regional proper word variations can cause just as much confusion. For example, although Yorkshire is England’s largest county (11,903 km2 Wikipedia says) a visitor to the county might feel pleased with themselves when they manage to learn that a circular small flattish loaf is called a ‘breadcake’. That is until they travel five miles away and discover that everyone in this town calls it a ‘teacake’
- In most countries, there are often differences in the way that regions view certain subjects such as sex, religion, politics and so on. These aren’t necessarily legal issues – they aren’t something that you could get arrested for – but certain things would be looked upon with disapproval. Behaviour in these three aspects of life that are in any way unusual are best avoided
- Toilets. As mentioned some travellers will find that in certain parts of the USA, the plumbing is not up to the standard they expect. But loos themselves can be a complicated issue worldwide. Some countries are far more coy than Europeans are – Americans, for example, call the toilet (the room not the porcelain thingy) ‘the bathroom’ despite the fact that there’s not a bathtub in sight. They even refer to toilet paper as ‘TP’
The above are just a few of the items that you could find to be unlike those you’re used to in addition to the clothes sizes / currency / language / road signs /customs / whatever that you’ve discovered on the internet.
However, the important thing to remember is that you’re travelling to experience these things not to criticise them. The way something is done in your country isn’t necessarily the right way.
JJ is originally from the UK and has lived in South Florida since 1994. She is the founder and editor of JAQUO Magazine. You can connect with her using the social media icons below.