I am so blessed! I have met such amazing friends while traveling abroad, and none as close as the friends I made on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage in Spain. I met 5 friends and a donkey on my first Camino, and we all remained very good friends throughout the 6 past years. All of them visited me in Canada and I often stayed at their home in France.
Last month, I had the pleasure to host two of my French friends for three weeks. French is my first language, so communicating wasn’t too much of a challenge, although France French and Canada French vary quite a lot, not only in the choice of words but also the accent. Since we all traveled often, we have gotten used to our respective accents. Given we came from different cultures, we enhanced our time together by doing 7 things. I would like to share those with you, and perhaps you will share some of your travels with friends from abroad.
1 – Adjust meal times. This is actually a noticeable difference in our cultures. My friends typically eat dinner later in the evening, while we tend to eat around 6:30 pm or so. We moved the time to 7:00-7:30 pm, a mid-point for all of us.
2 – During the planning phase of the 3 week holiday, I asked them to give me a list of things they wanted to do or visit, in order of importance. I really wanted to ensure I wasn’t going to be dragging them somewhere they didn’t enjoy or plan to see. A very high on the list location was Niagara Falls. This turned out to be a great idea since I had not been there before (even though I live a mere 7-hour drive away). I likely would not have thought about the Falls since I expected they wanted to choose locations closer to my hometown. I’m so happy we went as it turned out to be well worth the drive.
3 – We took turns making the meals. This was fun and delicious as they got to experience our way of eating and we feasted on some very tasty French meals. We also visited my brother and his wife for a few days, and they delighted us with a true Quebec style dinner and they enjoyed the French dinner my friends prepared for all of us.
4 – We had deep conversations during our many day trips on so many subjects. I would let them start the conversation which typically was “In Canada, how do you …” and we would share our experiences and learned much about our respective countries. The subjects ranged from getting a driving license to higher study costs; from politics to burial traditions; from retirement funds to buying groceries. We truly talked about anything and everything!
5 – I let them know they could ask me to stop driving at any time to take pictures. I really wanted them to feel they could do so, as I realized early on that what I thought was interesting to photograph wasn’t always their main interest. One interesting fact was that in France, due to the narrow streets and highways, large 18 wheeler trucks are not seen in their part of the world. They would ask me to slow down as we passed the big transport trucks and they would photograph many of the larger ones. The bigger surprise for them came when they saw a double large truck (two 53 foot trailer together, 32.5 meters in total)! They also were totally surprised by the number of pumpkins we had for sale. Since they came in October pumpkins were available mostly for Halloween, which is a big event for us. They really couldn’t get enough of our vast amount of pumpkins!
6 – I typically dislike going grocery shopping and I tend to go for what is needed and rush out as quickly as possible. I soon discovered that a trip to the grocery store could take up to an hour as I realized that they really enjoyed looking at all the different food we have, the different packaging, and we had a great time comparing the cost of different items. They did the same in clothing and outdoor stores which was a fun thing for me to do with them. I remember doing the same the first time I went to a grocery store in Spain. This turned a chore (shopping) into a really fun activity for us.
7 – We spent a lot of time talking about the different expressions we have and how our same language was at times, quite different. We enjoyed learning twists and turns of words and learned a lot about our common and not so common way of speaking.
I was sad to see them leave after three weeks of spending all our time together but we already have plans to meet up both in Spain and France this coming spring and summer. I gained a new appreciation of my country and my culture as well as understand more about theirs. It was a fabulous experience!
What have you learned from traveling with others from different countries or cultures?