As a traveller in different countries I really stick out amongst the masses. I am a tall Irish Canadian woman, 5 foot 9 Inches of pale freckled skin, and short hair. So I had to learn to not take myself too seriously because most the time there are a lot of eyes watching my every move.
I am clumsy, so embarrassing moments seem to follow me on most of my travelling experiences but, in the end, they make the best stories.
If you have never travelled abroad before and are planning on doing so, just be prepared to have moments that are utterly ridiculous. From saying things in another language that you thought were pronounced properly but actually end up being curse words, or falling face first into your friend’s size double D breasts because you can’t balance yourself on the bus like the locals who seem to move rhythmically along with the vehicle’s sharp twists and have, having a Japanese tourist take your photo in Australia because they have never seen someone with such white skin (I was fresh off the plane from a Canadian winter), and don’t even get me started about the time I thought I might have polluted a hospitals water supply in Ethiopia after using their restroom.
There is one embarrassing moment that sticks out in my memory and it still makes me chuckle when I think back to it.
It was my second year living in South Korea and, as much as I loved the food, I was really excited to see a Subway sandwich shop open across the street from my building. The day of the grand opening I eagerly walked into the shop anticipating the delicious bread melting in my mouth. Entering I couldn’t help but notice that this Subway looked nothing like the shops in Canada. It almost looked like a fine dining establishment with black leather chairs and beautiful tiled floors to match the décor.
“Fancy,” I thought as I made my way to the counter. All of the staff were lined up and they greeted me with a chorus of hello’s in Korean, “Anyoung-haseyo” each one of them bowing with big smiles spread across their faces. I bow back and respond to their greeting, “Anyoung-haseyo!”
I could see the look on their faces, they were nervous that they had to serve me and I could tell they feared they might not understand my English or Korean but all went smoothly, until they handed me my cola. As one of the staff leaned over to pass me the cola things became awkward with my hands and I hit the edge with my finger causing the cola to fly through the air and do a spin covering the hair of two of the employees in the sugar drink.
My mouth hung open and my face turned a shade of red that they probably didn’t think was possible.
“Mi-an-ham-ni-da !” I repeated over and over, a phrase I said quite often in Korea meaning, “I’m sorry!”
The two employees did not stop smiling even though cola dripped from their hair as they bowed and repeated, “Ken-chan-ah-yo!” (It’s alright/okay).
I was so flustered and embarrassed, I just wanted to get out of there. They handed me a new cola and I made my way to the exit. As I opened the door my high heel from my shoe caught the ridge of the pavement and, “Boom” I was flat on my face with the cola smashed across the pavement.
It happened so fast and knocked the wind out of me that it took me a second to realize what happened. People walked over me on the side walk because it is not customary to help people on the street for some reason. I tried to peel myself, and my dignity, off the pavement as I spouted out a few curse words in frustration. I refused to look back at the Subway employees who I know witnessed the fall.
As I walked towards my school the image of how ridiculous that must have looked hit me hard and I started laughing. I could not stop laughing! Entering the elevator to my school the students looked puzzled as I made crying noises my laughter was so intense.
“Teacher crying?” the students asked, but I seriously could not get a single word out in response as the laughter had taken over.
I think in that moment all of the embarrassing moments I had ever encountered came to light and I realized how important it is while travelling abroad to not take yourself too seriously. Here are five things I suggest when travelling and experiencing embarrassment.
- Embarrassment is inevitable. I don’t care if you tell me you never get embarrassed, I guarantee that lucky streak will come to an end the moment you start travelling. Just go with it and learn to laugh at yourself because you are about to become your biggest source of humour.
- Carry toilet paper. I am not going to get into this one, just trust me when I tell you it’s something you will always be happy you have.
- Learn how to apologies in other languages. Whatever country you are travelling in you need to learn how to say you are sorry. This comes in handy when you mess up and do something you thought was normal in your culture but is completely inappropriate in another. This will get you out of tough situations because the people seem happy that you at least know how to apologies in their language.
- Unless otherwise stated take off your outdoor shoes before entering a home. I learned this the hard way and was totally embarrassed. In my home if you have hardwood floor a lot of the time shoes are optional, but this is not the case in most places. Just to be on the safe side don’t stride into a person’s house with your shoes on, make sure to take them off and avoid that awkward moment.
- Embrace your imperfections. If you have low self-esteem then travelling might not be for you. I have had children touch my belly and ask, “Baby?” Women have pointed to my face and said “you have a problem with your face!” (in their culture it is polite to point out pimples). Some cultures you wear too much make-up and in others it’s not enough, and if you are a girl with short hair, some kids will like to refer to you as a boy. Embrace your “imperfections” as “perfection” because every culture has a different idea of beauty and we can’t please them all, only ourselves.