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I am a member of several different travel-related Facebook groups. In addition to the Points With a Crew miles and points Facebook group, I also belong to one called Every Passport Stamp. EPS also has a public Facebook page where they talk about traveling to various countries.
Recently there was a thread on the Every Passport Stamp group asking for members to share some of the weird cultural interactions they’ve encountered while traveling across the globe. I really enjoyed reading about some of these interactions, and also asked for members of the PWaC Facebook group to share theirs as well. Here are some of the interactions I found most amusing.
Something’s wrong about this geography….
- Pittsburgh airport. Me trying to enter USA with my Finnish passport. She didn’t believe that Finland is a country. I actually had to Google her that yes it’s a country, yes we have passports and no we don’t need a visa to enter the USA.
- Back in the late 90s my dad was discussing a trip back to Germany with his then girlfriend, when she asked if they could go to “downtown France”. Wasn’t terribly impressed with her in general, this did not improve it.
- On a Greyhound bus in 1990:
– Oh honey where are you from?
-I’m from France.
-Oh my god! How exotic! Which part of Paris are you from?
-I’m not from Paris, I’m from Bordeaux!
-Bordeaux??? But that’s a drink! Not a town! It’s as ridiculous as if I said I come from Coca-Cola for crying out loud!
- Walking through the streets of Shanghai as a teenager, a middle-aged Chinese lady asked me in English, “Excuse me, are you Jewish? Because you look very smart.”
- American in LA when I lived there in the 90s:
“Do you have electricity in Norway?”
– No, we watch TV in the dark”
” Oh, cool”
- In Michigan (2005) I got: “Do you use camels to travel?” “Do you live in tents” and I usually reply with “Yes, camels are more convenient than importing cars” and “It makes it so much easier to plug in our internet via tent than an actual house”
- I travel a lot (every week) but I still remember one of my first trips back in the early ’90s. I am French and that was my first trip to the U.S. when I visited a friend in Dallas, TX. When I told her friends I was living in Paris I realized that they had never heard about Paris, France before and thought I was actually coming from Paris, TX so they kept on wondering why I had that weird accent ….
It’s not THAT cold
- People in any hot country: “so this must be really hot for you because it’s always winter in Finland?”
- A fellow from Montana who genuinely thought we Canadians lived in igloos (only in the winter though). Buddy, we SHARE A BORDER?!
Americans around the world
- Krystal from Equestrian Adventuresses shares – I was the only blonde (and only white woman) the people in a village in India had ever seen (in real life.) they circled around me and one of the boys asked me, “when we get old our hairs turn white. When you get old, do your hairs turn black?”
- US soldier on a Dubai-Kuwait bound flight (2003): “Is it true if I hit on a local woman her dad will come out and chase me with a sword?”
I said yes. As a courtesy to my people.
Those “funny” accents
- I’m from the NE England and have (what I think is) a mild version of the local accent. I was at joya de ceren in El Salvador with my AirBnB host when a family from Texas asked me where I was from. I replied England. And they said “no, no, where are you really from”. I chuckled and said I was really from England. They replied “no, what language were you speaking before”. I replied “English”. They looked at me with exasperation and said “no, you were speaking Czechoslovakian or something”. I honestly didn’t know what to say so bid them a good day.
Drugs and bombs
- When I checked in at a hotel in Caracas, the young female receptionist took my Iranian passport (with perso-arabic script on the cover) and asked me if I was Arab. I responded “No” (Iranians aren’t Arab). And she responded “Please. You’re Arab.” I didn’t respond. Then she looked at my luggage standing next to me and asked if I had any bombs in the luggage. I laughed, thinking it was a jest. She didn’t laugh, and then once I noticed she wasn’t laughing, we got into an argument about her question.
- When I went through security in Tegucigalpa airport back in HS they took the tampons out of my carry-on and asked me what they were. My Spanish wasn’t real great yet, and I had to use hand motions to describe what it was for. They initially thought I might be smuggling drogas in them! They eventually understood….
The answer is always yes
- I was hiking a trail and got lost. I approached a gentleman, as I came into a clearing, and he offered to drive me back to my hotel. As I got into his vehicle he asked me, “Will anyone be looking for you?” I immediately checked for a door handle…then said, “What kind of question is that?” He apologized for the entire 30-minute drive.
Love, nudity, and marriage
- More like strangest occurrence. My father had a good friend in Germany who had kids the same age as us so my parents would send us off one at a time to spend a few weeks with this family. I was 13 and my brother was 15. My brother went first. When he came back, he told me when they take you to the swimming pool, walk off to the changing rooms by yourself. The family changes into their suits all together just standing by the pool. I was stunned! Did you, I asked him? He said yes but he was so embarrassed. Sure enough, when I went to visit, we went to the pool but I walked off to the changing rooms. Best advice my brother gave me. Total cultural differences there!
- My mom and I were in Jordan in 2000. One night we went for a walk outside our hotel in a little town near Petra. A street seller invited us to have tea and we sat down with him outside. After a few minutes of chat, he very sincerely asked my mother if he could marry me for 100 camels. She actually looked at me sideways, like she was considering it. I protested, “Mom!” But I was pleasantly surprised I was still worth that much, as I was already into my 30s
Animals around the world
- I am from the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia (agriculture region that grows wheat and farms sheep for wool and meat). When I was hitchhiking in Romania my driver asked if I knew the animal out the window (sheep), when i said he did he was surprised and said “Oh, I thought they were only in Romania”… 😅 Quite a smart guy until that comment.
- I was in a taxi in Bangkok with some friends. The driver didn’t speak any English, so he just suddenly started making animal sounds instead. One of us responded the same way, and by the end of the ride, it sounded like a zoo. No words were exchanged at all, only animal sounds.
- I was in Mozambique a bunch of years ago for a conference, and I decided to hire a driver to go to Kruger National Park in South Africa. The entire trip to the park was strange for a number of reasons, but it led to one of my favorite misunderstandings ever. The driver spoke almost no English and I spoke almost no Portuguese, so there were a lot of hand gestures over the 12 hours we were together in his Honda to get our points across. We entered the park over a bridge called “Crocodile Bridge.” When we got into the park, I said “Are there lots of crocodiles here?” He looked at me puzzled, so I said, “crocodiles” while moving my arms like a croc’s mouth. He excitedly replied, “Oh CROCODILES, YES!” Then we didn’t talk for a half hour or so. Later on in the day, we are at a watering hole, and he starts tapping me and points to the water and makes the crocodile mouth gesture while saying, “crocodile! Crocodile!” Turns out, the mouth movement of a crocodile is similar to the mouth movement of a hippo, and there was a giant hippo coming out of the water. 🙂
Lost in translation
- In Chile at a hostel-ish place we were staying, the communal restroom ran out of toilet paper. I went to the desk and asked for toilet paper. The woman said “sí. ¿Necessito una lapiz?”: “yes. Do you need a pen?” That’s when I recalled “papel higenico” from reading it on tp boxes here in the states, and clarified for her. She was embarrassed, we both laughed!
- While in Hanoi, I was just trying to relax on a bench at Hoan Kiem lake and was approached by a teacher and some students to practice English. I sat with them for about 15 minutes, going through all their questions. They thanked me and walked away. Then a little boy sat down and started asking me similar questions. The fourth question he asks me with a smirk on his face “Do you like the food here?” and then proceed to follow it up by saying, “It looks like you do” and pats my belly… I just started laughing, and at the same time, his mother that I didn’t know was behind us gasps and started yelling “NO NO NO NO” and proceeded to apologize to me over and over. I just laughed and told her it was ok and looked at the little boy patted my belly back and said, “I sure do, fat American,” and went about my day.
I hope you got as much of a kick out of some of these as I did. What’s your weirdest cultural interaction? Leave it in the comments below.
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