I am also a lazy traveller. I am too lazy to count my change. I am too lazy to consider how much money I am spending when I handle foreign currency. I am too lazy to research the country I am visiting before I visit. I expect to be cushioned by people who know the area and know the real price of goods.
One of the most memorable (and ‘sustainable’) ways to travel is to be ‘adopted’ by numerous families in different parts of the world who will clothe you, cook for you, and show you the way that they live in their home city. Some of the more recent family houses I have lived in have included places in Mexico City, Manila, South Korea, Shanghai, the U.A.E, and Tampa Bay. I met these families because I studied in Israel, the USA, and Australia, where I got to make a lot of international friends.
Lucky for me, I have been adopted by quite a few families around the world. I am a little confused as to why people choose to take care of me. I am convinced that it is because I look confused and I look a bit vacant (I daydream a lot and I am usually distracted by bright colors). I am also a girl with pale-never-been-outside-nerd-skin, so I don’t look overly intimidating to these families. These are families who realised that although I am a little slow on figuring out which country I am actually in, I am generally receptive to the way that things go in the place that I am staying.
For example… I hate to beat up on delicate palates, but if you are going to stay with families there is one rule above all others that I highly endorse:
EAT EVERYTHING THEY PUT IN FRONT OF YOU.
That is, don’t be fussy.
Don’t be a vegetarian.
Don’t say no to dog meat.
Don’t say no to raw beef or raw anything.
Don’t say no to chicken-egg foetus or chicken intestines.
Pray before a meal if this is the way things are done.
It is indeed the most enduring complement if you endeavour to try and enjoy the food that your international family has so lovingly provided. It is important to ask the right questions. Do not ask; ‘What is in it?’. Instead ask; ‘How did you make it?’. Tone and tact are imperative. If you are gluten-intolerant or allergic to peanuts, stay in the Ritz I say (at least the negligence suit will be sizeable if they screw up your omelette).
Generally, if you listen closely, families are quite often relieved to have a new person in the house. This is because you can bring some new perspective on an old issue, or sometimes people are just enthusiastic to talk about their own customs with a clueless foreigner who is so new to the culture. When listening, I would suggest dropping all of your ideas about ‘ethics’ and listen as though you were just born. For example, expressing your views on the role of women doesn’t really gel in any house in any country. Keep your logic inside your head. It is nobody’s logic but yours. Everyone lives by different codes. Everyone keeps a very private kind of prejudice, so we should not attempt to apprehend someone who disagrees with Japan, or doesn’t like Palestine. If your opinion is called upon, do not make it bold or brazen, but make it half-way on any topic.
Staying with families makes different cultures highly personal. That is probably one of the main reasons I keep staying with families. I have milked someone’s cow (the cow didn’t like it), I have bowed in front of elders for chinese new year, and I have mourned with a family at a grave site. This is different to the times when I have stayed in a comfortable hotel, watching Chinese cable while drinking wine from the bottle with wet hair.
Over time I have accumulated a lot of different brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents and cousins that feel like my real family. That sounds like a cliché. It is a cliché. But through watching people closely and by trying to learn someone else’s language, we can feel like a welcome part of a new country or new religion. While I was ‘adopted’, I shared food, ground, showers, clothes, and traditional alcohol with all of these people. I am always surprised by how nice people in the world can be. Especially to a clueless country girl who is not sure if she is Jewish, Korean, or Catholic…