To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted. – Bill Bryson
Its almost comical how true this is. Of all the different countries I’ve visited, one of the most interesting experiences, across the board, was their supermarkets.
When I was in Italy, I remember being SO confused about buying shampoo and conditioner. I knew the language decently well, I had my English-Italian dictionary, and I still couldn’t tell shampoo from conditioner!! I thought for sure I’d at least know if I was getting two of the same, but I had no idea! And not wanting to make the mistake of getting two conditioners, I stood in front of that rack for probably 20 minutes with the most perplexed look on my face. It also happened to be a high traffic area so I also collected stares. I couldn’t even think of how to ask someone for help–not knowing the names of the items I was looking for… So I booked it out of there without buying anything, recruited about 5 friends and we all stood there staring at the rack, waiting for inspiration…
One of the things you miss when you spend a long period of time in a foreign country, is the diversity of the food you can get in the US. Reaching the end of my rope, I went to the supermarket to get Mexican food ingredients… only they don’t exist. So I had to make due. Chili powder? Pepperoncini will do. Right? Let me tell you, it was quite the experience. I made the hottest chili that my two dinner buddies were crying because they didn’t want to be rude and stop eating.
I went on a short trip to Slovakia, while in Italy, and was surprised that it had tortillas!!! Slovakia had more ethic food in their supermarkets than in Italy, which, I would have never imagined! My excitement was obvious as I cheered for myself, alone in the store. I reeled myself in, bought them and brought them back to Italy with me. I attempted something I’d never done before: make enchiladas. The process was thrilling! I was so proud I was able to adapt and accomplish this one meal with my poor friends that had to endure the painfully bad chili. And when we ate it, no one cried. They didn’t really taste like enchiladas, but my Italian friends will never know 😉
The point is, the most mundane experiences, when done in a new place, have a new life breathed into them! If you went to Bologna, I’d tell you: you can skip the iconic tower in the city center, but the giant fruit market is a must-see. Going to Holland? You’ve got to try their flat cake thingies. Slovakia? They work magic with poppy seeds. Buy anything and everything poppy and you won’t regret it.
No one told me that the everyday boring things I take for granted would be among the highlights of my trip. But can you tell me about your grocery visit 3 years ago? Or even last month?
Its the things you take for granted that other people do so differently that you will remember. It will force you to accept a completely new and confusing reality and make you stop a think for a moment.
In Italy, if you run into someone interesting and want to hang out with them, don’t ask them to coffee. They drink their morning coffee standing, and like they drink their tequila shots at night: you won’t get the hour long convo you were looking for. And if you’re craving a Latte…please, be my guest. Order one. You’re in for a surprise.
The everyday, the mundane…those are the things I remember, not the museums. When you see something new, it’s easy to forget. But when you experience something new, it will stay with you forever.