One of the things I love about traveling is acclimating to the cultural norms of a place. I like being aware, and a part of, situations that are considered socially acceptable abroad versus what you can (or can’t) get away with at home.
I’ve traveled so much that I feel spoiled when it comes to certain liberties, to the point that life becomes somewhat discouraging when I come back to my base and realize, “Damn, I’m not in country X anymore, I gots to follow rules yo.”
Here are some ways that travel has ruined me:
I can’t just walk around the streets holding a beer, or get drunk in the park.
In England, I’d take 2-litre plastic bottles of Strongbow Cider to Millennium Park and get totally shit-faced under the London Eye at like, noon on a Tuesday. They don’t have “open-container” laws in most places, and nobody really cares if you drink in public as long as you’re not bothering them.
Then I came back home and walked outside with a bottle of beer at a friend’s party. “OH MY GOD GET BACK IN THE HOUSE YOU’LL BE ARRESTED!” the party hostess screamed at me. Now I resort to hobo-tactics and guzzle alcohol from within the safety of a paper bag. Seriously? So tacky.
I can’t haggle for goods.
I can’t walk into Sears and say to a cashier, “I’ll pay you $7 for this shirt. 20 is way too expensive.” Likewise, I can’t go to a restaurant and say to the waiter, “I see your lobster fricassee is $53, but I only feel like paying you 25. Sound like a deal? No? Is there a discount if I order the lobster plus a selection of two sides? Come on dude, you’re still making a profit!” Flea markets aren’t even that lenient — the best I’ve done is maybe a 10% discount on some piece of junk I didn’t even want.
Haggling is more than just enterprise, it’s a cultural exchange. I just want to go back to the days where I’d haggle over market crafts with friendly Peruvian women who ended up inviting me back to their homes for a family supper…
I can’t shit anywhere I want.
Okay, so I’m not an animal and don’t just take dumps wherever, but when I was in Ghana and someone had to use the bathroom, we’d just pull over to the side of the road and go. You’d find a bush, or a grassy knoll, and do your biz-nass.
But I can’t really do that in suburban Long Island — there are very few sheltered areas out of public view, and most businesses won’t even let you touch the door of their restroom without buying something first. Driving home while digesting Indian food has become a terrible nightmare of, “Am I going to shart myself today because the closest place to take a roadside crap is the local elementary school?” Also, I’d probably get arrested.
I can’t have a seven-hour workday with a two-hour nap in between.
Man, how I miss siestas. It makes sense to have them — you work hard, you need rest, and you need to recharge. Every hour you stay open and a customer doesn’t come in is money wasted. And napping makes you feel happier, and oftentimes more productive.
Sure, places like Spain have massive economic issues, but I’m pretty positive that’s just from poor financial management, not resting while you work. But I get docked for taking one minute over my 30-minute lunch break; I think my office would explode if I took a two-hour nap at my desk.
I can’t eat whatever I want without someone criticizing me.
The worst food-bullying I ever got while dining abroad was, “You need to eat more — here, have another serving! I make great spanakopita, yes?” Many places in the US, like the Southern Lowcountry, take pride in their food culture and celebrate the art of their cuisine. But when I come home, everyone has an opinion on how and what I should eat.
“Don’t eat dairy, you don’t need that much calcium anymore.” “You should become a vegan because all the hormones society pumps into our meat are killing you.” “I don’t eat anything except an apple and a string cheese all day, and I’ve lost seven pounds!”
Gross. Everyone shut up and let me eat whatever I want, because we’re all going to die someday and probably from something we ate (and yes, choking on your gluten-free cupcake counts).
I can’t just be naked.
Lots of folks I’ve met around the world are totally comfortable hanging out in their undies, or not wearing a shirt, sometimes forgoing pants altogether…not because it’s some weird fetish, or they’re horny all the time, but because they’re comfortable enough with their bodies not to let a little nudity get in the way of their everyday lifestyle.
My Czech friends hang out in their skivvies on the weekend — it’s comfortable, especially in the summertime. But they don’t get off on it — if they want to have sex they get up and go into another room and do it in private. Like normal people.
Now, however, people get freaked out when my shorts are too short, or I don’t wear a bra under my tank top. How is it any different than walking around in a bathing suit? Sometimes I just don’t feel like wearing pants — why is that not okay?