I’m human. I’m not above ranting and whining about things that annoy me. As an individual fortunate to have the benefits of being an American and also of working and living overseas, I tend to compare. Why can’t they read and follow road signs like Americans?… This so would not be tolerated in America…
I try, in my fairer moments, to step back and put things into context. As much as my “It’s time to start packing” post was composed tongue-in-cheek, I usually come out of those moments of frustration and impatience by reminding myself my reactions are as much a reflection of me as they are of the culture I am observing.
I’ve learned over time spent abroad, both as an expat and as a traveler, that it behooves me, the traveler, to be brutally honest with myself. And to take control over how I react as a participant in the proverbial stage we call the world.
For instance, being irritated with the language barrier is not an appropriate response. Countries like Thailand have an old culture that predates the discovery of the Americas, with a language that carries as much history as it carries communication. Locals have their own language. Knowing English gives the person a business edge, but is not a prerequisite to succeed in his or her own country. As should be the case. The fact that they don’t need to speak English to survive tells me the country has its own economy, its own domestic market, instead of an over-reliance on foreign investment. That should be celebrated, not mocked.
Lately, I’ve taken extra care first to create the buffer between my judgment and my outward reaction and then to take the high road. Say, I was shoved from behind in a crowd as I was trying to get out during Songkran. Old me could have gone as far as snapping my head around, glaring at the offender, and forcing him or her back a little. Or, depending on whether I agree, old me could have let that momentum from the back push against the people in the front as well. New me no longer elicits a push either direction, but establishes a firm footing on the ground to resist the pressure from behind force a domino effect in front of me. I can’t change the pushing tendencies of a huge crowd, but how I may or may not further perpetuate that chain reaction.
Handling my reactions has been a lifelong learning exercise for me. I am by nature temperamental and impatient. I may well be working on it for the rest of my life. However, my ability to create that filter has improved with age. And more importantly, with experience. Traveling as much as I do, I find soaking in the exotic experiences are more rewarding if I make conscious effort to identify when my reaction is fair or not. I can’t stop the fact that I find some places uncomfortable, but I can step back try to pinpoint what guides my emotions and whether I can set those judgments aside to be objective.