Meeting new people and experiencing new cultures opens your mind to the possibility that your small region of the globe is just that, one region of many in a wonderfully diverse world.
Travel means meeting new people in their own contexts and learning that their homes might have something unique and delightful to offer.
Travelers take off for here and there to have more encounters with other nations and peoples. But it is not without some struggle.
One problem with European or Asian travel is that you have to get there by airplane. Certainly, you could take a ship, but it takes longer than most of us have.
The airplane is a wonderful invention, especially if experienced from first or business class. Economy class — while not really economical — can be a confrontation with classism.
A person in economy knows what it is like to be in the 99 percent. People taller than 6 foot are very aware that the seats in the back of the plane are made for people less than 5-feet tall. This is height discrimination.
Then there is the basic mystery of flight.
It is hard at first blush to figure out how a fully loaded 767 can take off or soar. The whole aerodynamics thing is more than some can ponder. It does, however, work.
Landing, while a relief, means finding your luggage. Finding Waldo is sometimes easier. It seemed like such a good idea to get a black suitcase back before the carousel.
Challenges continue outside the airport.
Wherever you might be in the world, you will need some basic understanding of the language.
It is important to make some attempt at their tongue, or they will think you are arrogant, not just ignorant.
My foreign language skills are primarily vested in my hands and the pity principle. Flail enough, and someone will have pity on you.
But here is just a small linguistic warning. The word for toilet is “toilette” in Italy. In Boston, “to let” means the room is for rent. It sounds the same.
Other cultures have some better ideas than we do. Yes, this goes against our xenophobic prejudice, but it is true.
Take, for example, European toilet paper. It is sturdy and comes on self-starting rolls. We could learn something on this count.
As well, the British save countless hours a year by holding a knife in the right hand and a fork in the left and never putting them down. The American way of changing hands and implements is a major waste of time that could be spent on more important things — such as sitting for an hour after supper and talking to our companions.
Americans seem to want to jump up from dinner to text a friend or watch television, which is not very European. In Austria you may wait hours until you finally ask for the check.
There is much for us to learn.
But traveling also gives you a better understanding of your home and its value. There is suddenly something exceptionally soothing about one’s personal pillow.
• Mike McLellan can be contacted by calling and leaving a message at 830-4231 or emailing him at DrMikeM@sbcglobal.net.