I believe the memory of regular travel can be good for the solar. Here’s my favorite one – And I want to hear some of your most memorable travel stories.
It’s the summer of 2008, and I’m hanging out with my hosts Hans and Marjet in my B&B living room on the outskirts of Amsterdam in Harlem. Reaching my Heineken, I noticed that it was sitting in a handbook that the Dutch government had created to teach prostitutes about safe sex. Thumbing through it, I tell Hans, “It’s both artistic and clear.”
“It’s Victoria without a secret,” he whispered jokingly.
“Isn’t that shocking to a lot of people?” I ask.
“Only to the English and the Americans,” he replied. Remember, this is Holland. Last night we saw a local TV documentary. It was about body piercings, in full graphic detail – tits, penis, everything. There was a special on Kamasutra last week. I have never seen sexual gymnastics. These were two more documentaries for our Dutch. . . It doesn’t matter. These would probably be big hits on American TV. ”
“I don’t know,” I say, realizing that I found the handbook more interesting than Hans. “But do you know which is the most visited page on my website? A silly little article comparing the two sex museums in Amsterdam. “
“Sex is not a click here. This is not a ban in Holland, “said Marget. “But we are not reckless about sex. Dutch teenage pregnancies are half that of Americans. “
Save money on B&B. As a bonus, I find that B&B hosts are often great students of intercultural human nature and like to share their results. They give me an intimate glimpse of a culture I couldn’t get from the front desk of the hotel.
This is certainly true of Hans and Marjet, who encourage guests to thoroughly prepare themselves at home. And in their living room, with its well-worn chairs, crowded books, fun near-antiques, and a steep piano that is jammed with shattered music, it’s easy to feel at home.
Hans and Marjet live in three rooms and rent five. Hans would like a place to stay a little longer. Like her neighbors, she could glass her backyard, but she couldn’t stand her juicy but pint-sized garden business. He brought me another beer and asked, “How long are you going to stay here?”
“Not long enough” is my regular response. I’m Hans’s pet Yankee. He is in a personal crusade to slow me down. To Hans, I’m a fine-grained, goal-oriented American.
Hans provides their guests with more insight into the cultural differences. “We Dutch are in the middle,” he said. “We are as skilled as the Germans – that’s why there are so many American companies in Holland. But we want to live like the French. “
“And cracking jokes like the English,” Marget added. “Everyone here appreciates the British sense of humor. We watch BBC for comedy. “
Hans also sees cultural differences in the way their guests eat breakfast. “Americans like tough advice and want to be guided. Europeans – especially Germans – know what they want. It took the French three days to defrost. But Americans talk and make friends quickly. Europeans, even if there is no language difference, put their personal formal island on the breakfast table. “
He leans forward, pointing to two of their kitchen tables. “If the Germans were sitting here and the Americans were sitting there, I would break the ice. Introducing the Americans to the Germans, I say, ‘OK, they left their guns in the state.’ We are like Dutch Germans – but with humor. “
Coming back to our discussion of how different cultures interact with sex, Margaret tells Hans, “Tell Rick the story of the‘ Dutch boys on the English beach ’. This body thing can be stressful for the Americans, but it sends the English under their pillows. “
“As a schoolboy I traveled to England with a friend,” Hans began. “We changed our pants on the beach without the hassle of towels – no problem. We are good Dutch boys. As usual, there was a visitor to the beach: bench-loaded retired Britons enjoying the fresh air, suffering through their wet sandwiches. When my friend starts to change his swimsuit, all the people turn their heads. Rejoicing in our power to remove the English masses, we repeated this step. I pulled my trousers down and all heads turned again. “
“We don’t see much English on our beach,” said Margot, smiling as if she were hearing the story for the first time.
“We get most Americans,” Hans said.
“We would be happy to fill our house with only Americans,” Marget said. “It’s easy to communicate with Americans. They’re open. They’ve taught me to express myself, to say what I think.”
Hans pauses to mimic a Tony Tiger tourist, “Oh wow, that’s great! What a beautiful home you have here!”
“Americans are shocked,” Marget added.
“The English don’t know how to be shocked,” says Hans.
I think you almost surprised them on that beach, “Margett said.” When we went to Colorado, my trip got better when I learned to say ‘wow’ a few times a day. “
“When an American asks, ‘How are you?’ We say, ‘OK’ means ‘good’. The American says, ‘It doesn’t feel good.’ We explain, ‘We are European.’
Hans says, “Then the American answers, ‘Oh, yeah – you’re honest.'”
“There are big ‘smiles and winning’ signs in the market, even in the shopping bags of the supermarket,” said Marjet, fascinated by the sincerity of America’s smiling face.
“It’s true,” I agree. “Only in America can you find a bank that fines tellers if they don’t tell every client to ‘have a nice day’.”
Hans says, “Did you know that the Dutch are the most desirable workers at Disneyland Paris? Because most Dutch are open-minded. We can laugh all day. And we speak our language.”
Marget explains, “When someone in Holland asks, ‘Do you speak your language?’ They mean: Do you speak Dutch with French, German and English?
Hans continues. “And for us, friendly performances may be less tedious than French ones. Can you imagine a Frenchman laughing all day?”
Hans closes my Heineken glass. “God created the whole earth. It was wonderful. But France. . . It was just so perfect. So he spoke French to keep things in balance.
“And Canada could have it all: British culture, French food, American knowledge,” said Marget.
“But they have messed up and got British food, French knowledge and American culture.”
As I climb up the steep Dutch stairs to my bedroom, I think of the value of friends on the street. The most memorable moments of this day came after visiting my sights.