In the last few years, I've traveled more than in all the preceding years combined. As promised, travel has been eye-opening in ways I had not expected. Here are some of my observations.
Everywhere you go, if you smile at someone the chances are very good they'll smile back. This seems especially true of women smiling at women or their children. Yeah, I know you're supposed to avoid eye contact in big cities, as a way of giving one another privacy and avoiding the crazies, but sometimes I smile anyway. Sue me.
Just like in the movie "10," people in The Bahamas really will cornrow and bead the hair of white women, and cheap. But they don't really want patrons with hair well past the waist. Not that it would have looked good anyway.
The soldiers patrolling the area around the Eiffel Tower with automatic weapons and grim expressions look about seventeen years old.
The poor in other countries make the American poor look well-to-do. Many live in shacks they built out of whatever was at hand, without running water or electricity or even a locking door. No need; there's nothing inside but sleeping mats made of old newspapers.
American tourists who are polite, wait their turn, don't talk too loud, and don't delay or get in the way of others with their picture taking are not disliked anywhere I've been. People who are rude, don't wait their turn, are loud, and inconvenience others are disliked whether they're Americans or not.
Young men wearing suits for work have a certain panache--if the suit is cut well and fits. A good suit can elevate an ordinary looking guy with a not-great body into something special. Suit up, guys!
People in England, both the locals and tourists from all over the world, all wear American brands of athletic shoes. It's quite unusual to see a brand that's not familiar.
The movie stereotypes about surfers are true. Their deeply tanned skins look more like hides when they're only in their 30s, and the way they talk sounds silly to an outsider's ear--which is probably the intent. Amazingly graceful, though, and some determination and grit is required for minimal proficiency.
A man in Bermuda does not look foolish in a suit with shorts and high socks. He looks adorable. Especially if he's over forty.
A thirty-something woman whose cell phone features a pink cover with rhinestones is going to keep talking loudly in a quiet public place despite the looks everyone is giving her. Corollary: During her conversation she will say things that reveal she's
stupid poorly educated.
You can't go wrong with visiting a museum wherever you travel. Major cities have world-class collections, the original items pictured in history and art books. Even the small, quirky museums can be quite wonderful if you let them.
It rains nearly everywhere, yet an astonishing number of tourists apparently do not pack rain gear or an umbrella. The mark-up on umbrellas in tourist destinations when it's pouring is worse than on wine in restaurants.
Teenagers and young adults from all over the world really do walk around with their cell phones in front of their faces rather than noting their amazing surroundings, whether a vibrant city or a volcano.
Tom Wolfe's "social x-ray" women in New York City are the real deal. As a group, Manhattan has the thinnest women I've ever seen--and many clothing stores there don't even carry anything over a size 10 or 12. How dare a healthy-weight size 16 enter their shop? She really ought to try anorexia.
In Hawaii, the native culture is far more accepting of trans individuals than any other I've observed. I saw quite a few and the only shocked people were the tourists.
Black leggings are made for women of every shape and size, but they certainly don't flatter women of every shape and size. Yet they are the urban uniform in sophisticated cities.
In the UK, there are a whole lot of blond and redheaded people with many of the less desirable traits, like multitudes of freckles, invisible eyebrows and lashes, and very pink faces.
If you personalize your transactions with people whose job it is to ring up your purchase, serve you food or drink, clean up after you, transport you, etc. whether it's a restaurant, a store, a cruise ship, a bar, a taxi, or a tour, you will get better service and usually a smile. Everybody likes to be recognized as a person. Duh.
Any restaurant at which all the visible male employees wear their hair in a man bun will be overpriced for what you get. Hip doesn't taste all that good.
In London, during theatre intermission they bring individual ice cream cartons into the theatre for sale to patrons. They stand at the front of each aisle, near the stage, and block no one. It's overpriced and usually sells out. Pay attention, Broadway!
It's hard to think of a place you cannot go wearing jeans and a T-shirt. It's easy to think of places you shouldn't go dressed like that--cathedrals, weddings, funerals, live theatre--but nobody will stop you at the door. When you travel outside the US, being inappropriately underdressed gives people the wrong idea, not just about you but all Americans.
There's a definite Hugh Grant type in London, men over forty with good suits and tousled hair.
Blue and bright navy suits for men are okay with tan or golden brown shoes rather than the black that was once the only acceptable color. I'm not sure when this happened, but it did, in big cities at least.
Even if you're all speaking the same language, you can't necessarily understand everybody. Accents of real people are a lot more pronounced than accents on TV or in movies.
People in large cities tend to dress far more warmly than the temperature demands. You see wool coats, bulky knit scarves, and high boots, sometimes hats and gloves, when it's in the upper 50s and low 60s. My guess is they're prepared to be outdoors, walking or waiting for public transportation, way longer than people who drive to their destinations--but it still looks odd to me, out there in a thin sweater and perfectly comfortable.
The UK has a lot of people with cheeks so rosy they look like they've been slapped.
When a woman smiles at a woman of cover, she smiles back. You can see her eyes creasing at the corners if her cover leaves nothing else exposed. I make a point of smiling at them.
I never see a nun in habit in the US, but they're elsewhere.
Restaurants that have crystal, linen tablecloths, and some female servers tend to be better than their all-male counterparts. And I've never had a female server who seemed snooty and superior, which is not the case with their male counterparts.
I have enough T-shirts to last a lifetime. Why don't shops in tourist areas carry something unique to the area that's pretty or useful, in as wide a variety as the T-shirts? No matter where I visit, the tourist shops are 85% T-shirts, and many are not area-specific. ("Ask Your Doctor if BEER is Right for You!") Sell me books about or set in the area. Sell me maps pretty enough to frame. Sell me DVDs of movies with area connections. Sell me prints or comic books by local artists. Sell me the work of local artisans.
The portion sizes in restaurants outside the US are substantially smaller, and they don't automatically bring bread to the table. They tend to have no reduced-sugar or low-fat options (although they can accommodate gluten-free and vegan diners), and you leave feeling sated on far less food.
Hawaiians accept that fat people can be attractive far more than other Americans do. Many of the native people there are thirty or more pounds heavier than is healthy, yet they exude confidence in their appearance.
European restaurants don't offer much that's low-fat or reduced sugar, although they have selections for vegetarians, vegans, and those who don't eat gluten. Although the portions are smaller, with sufficient fat and sugar, you get enough--and I suspect it's fewer calories than the American way.
I don't like to stereotype, but I shall. In London, Paris, and New York, many men from the Middle East demand the center of a sidewalk, the path through a busy restaurant, or doorway, expecting women to cede their own space to allow them to pass. (They make way for other men.) This pisses me off, and I sometimes refuse to give way, allowing shoulder collisions, then glaring at them with my nice western blue eyes.
Housekeepers in hotels work hard for lousy wages. If you tip them daily, most will do what they can to please you--leaving you more coffee of the kind you used, extra towels, spare travel soaps or lotions, like that. If you can afford an urban hotel room, you can afford to tip.
When seasoned travelers tell you everyone in Paris speaks some English and you'll be fine without French, they're mistaken. Many people working in businesses whose patrons are nearly all tourists (museums, hotels, nearby restaurants, etc.) speak no English at all. We were often surprised by what we'd ordered at dinner.
Shoes you can walk in matter more than shoes that look good. Girls and women would serve their traveling selves well to own a pair of attractive, comfortable flats other than athletic shoes.