Traveling abroad always stretches your mind and opens the door for learning new ways of doing things. In a culture where you don’t speak the language or know the locals ways, flexibility is truly a desirable virtue.
For example, in our travels to Italy and France we were given a bath towel and a hand towel, but no washcloth—ever. The water faucets have all kinds of interesting ways for turning on: foot pedals on the floor, levers or knobs on the wall, motion detectors in odd places. Even flushing the toilet is an adventure as there are options for a “quick flush” or a “big flush.” This seems like a good idea for saving water. Also, Europeans have tiny little washing machines in their kitchens or bathroom and no driers. However, you will likely find a foldable drying rack in a closet.
Then there is the drinking water. You have to ask for “still” water or you will get a carbonated drink. Every restaurant we ate at had at least one waiter who spoke enough English for us to get by, though vegetarian options were not prolific in Paris. I was impressed by how much English signage there is now, compared to 30 years ago when I traveled in Europe as a student.
On the other hand, the local grocery store was an experience not to be forgotten. Since we were staying in a flat outside the tourist sections, there was no English signage and the cashiers spoke only French. So we looked carefully at the pictures on the packaging and guessed at the ingredients.
How did we manage before the Internet?
We also got a little help from Google with word translations. Google has definitely changed the travel experience. Thanks to Google Maps, we figured out the Paris Metro and got around pretty well, especially when we remembered that the street names are either engraved on the corners of the buildings or attached to name plates on the second story levels.
The main lesson for me about flexibility is being able to see that other ways of doing things are not necessarily better or worse than what I’m accustomed to—just different. And since we as Christians are all anticipating living in a New Earth where “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor even entered into the imagination the things that God has prepared for us who love Him,” it’s probably a good thing to practice a little flexibility here and now (1 Cor. 2:9).
Travel Blog #2: The Value of Diversity—Who’s around You