Dare to be a Tourist

BeatnikBird

Recently, I’ve been tackling a variety of DIY tasks — things like repairing a peeling bathroom ceiling, putting the suck back into a vacuum that had gone kaput, and battling some carpenter bees that have moved into our deck. My motivation has been simple — a personal challenge to see if I could actually do-it-myself and an attempt to save a few dollars in the process.

It’s been strange terrain for me as I’ve never been terribly handy (i.e., probability’s high that I will cause unintentional harm to myself or others when I climb a ladder, grab a hammer or drop a tool.) Yet, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results.

By asking questions, getting help from in-laws or parents, and doing extensive online research, I’ve developed the courage to try. To my delight, I’ve found that I am indeed (as my 4th grade teacher once assured me) lovable and capable.

Thinking about these new challenges reminds me of something I experienced last summer and jotted down in a little, pocket-sized notebook that I’d brought along on our trip to France. Here are those notes — with a touch of editing — that I hope express my new mantra that trying is more than half the battle.

~~~

When I lived in New York, I never had any trouble spotting tourists: they were the goofy looking ones wearing practical shoes, neon windbreakers and staring up at the towering skyline.

I couldn’t help laughing the other day when I found myself sporting exactly the same attire and striking the identical pose. There I was, part of a nature and wildlife expedition,  searching the sky for a “fantastique” bird that everyone else seemed to see.

DSC_1686

Up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane… it’s ?#$@!!

I started to feel like the legendary Emperor presented with a spectacular new wardrobe of the transparent variety.

Should I play it cool?

“Oui, bien sûr! Je le vois… il est magnifique.”

[Yes, of course! I see it… it’s magnificent.]

Or desperate?

“Mais où??! Je vois rien de tout!”

[But where??! I see nothing at all!]

It’s an interesting predicament. Is it better to try to blend in and pretend we understand or should we ask questions, thereby admitting our lack of knowledge?

The best path I’ve found is to allow ourselves, at times, to be novices — and join the ranks of fellow tourists in the world.

Ever said “yes” to something out of politeness or pride when you really would have said “no” had you known the terms of the deal? You probably regret not asking that clarifying question.

pirate shirt

If we happen to be around helpful, patient people, we have everything to gain. And, if we’re around jerks who don’t want to help at all — good riddance. They’re not the ones we want to be with anyway.

Wandering a wooded path in a small provençal town, I found myself in totally unfamiliar territory. Even in English, I would be lost trying to follow a lecture on birds and wildlife. In French, with layers of precise foreign terminology — patterns, wing spans, habits, and habitats… fuggedaboutit.

Here, it was obvious I was a tourist; I was wearing the fluorescent clothes to prove it. So I went ahead and asked my questions.

The more daunting task is admitting one’s a tourist in what should be familiar situations. That’s what often happens when traveling or living abroad. Exchanging a dress, buying groceries, and simply eating become pitfall-prone treks through the wilderness.

But we have to be willing to observe, participate and ask questions if we hope to grow and become, well…  less touristy.

After all, it’s OK and even wonderful that we do things differently in our respective cultures but learning the codes of etiquette are an important, continual and necessary process.

Allowing ourselves to be beginners, whether the new frontier is birding, building or learning a foreign language, is a noble pursuit. What good would we be if we stopped learning? We’d become stagnant, boring creatures, waiting to wither away.

So, in that spirit, would somebody finally tell me how to properly slice French cheese? And how much is appropriate to take the next time the plateau is passed my way?

cheese