The conversation between Chiara and I about our trips.
a) What have you found most remarkable/different about the cultures you have visited?
C: Probably the weather. The scenery of South Africa was really remarkable. Also the cheese course in France! No, I’m serious, you have bread and then you have cheese, it’s a nice touch to the meal, and if you didn’t like the meal, you can still fill up on cheese. Also, in South Africa, the way people interact is slightly different, and the concerns people my age had were different from in Canada. There was clearly more concern about personal safety than in North America. Many of the things that come to mind I think are things that are an exception in North America, not specific to the country. There was a lot more respect at schools for the teachers, and outside of school for elders. Again, I think that’s something that North America lacks, not that is unique to South Africa.
R: It really depended on the country. In Turkey I found it really remarkable how connected everyone was. Everyone in the tourist industry was in for your money, but also had so many connections, you knew that when you went to go get a bus, you knew it was the friend of your hotel owner who was organizing it. In a broader sense, in Amsterdam and Berlin, just the way people live in big cities, so much more dense living, I found that bizarre. It was completely normal for everyone, even really well off people to live in big apartment buildings. Also having so much history in one place. You walk through a random village in France and there are things that are 700 years old, that so different from home. And lack of green spaces or the way cities keep going on and on. Like going from Amsterdam to Berlin by train, there were a couple places where you were sort of in farming areas, but there was always a village nearby. There was nowhere where you thought you might be far from people, everywhere is a settlement.
C: I also found in South Africa and Europe that there was a lot more history. In South Africa there were also a lot more obvious security measures. For example, there was barbed wire everywhere. There were electric fences buzzing everywhere. It was kind of scary and unwelcoming, as well as looking ugly but eventually you got used to it. The strangest thing was that these were present even when it was completely unnecessary. For example, there would be barbed wire on top of a roof even though no one could get up there, or between the road and a cliff, in the place of a barrier. I think this was because there was so much barbed wire left over from the apartheid era, that they had abundance and so it was used for things they weren’t necessairly necessary.
b) What places do you miss most? Are there places you’d like to go back to?
C: In South Africa, the only thing I left really wanting to do was visit the District 6 museum, as that would’ve been really interesting. We tried to go but it it was very difficult to find a time that it was open. Also, I would’ve liked to get involved in something with people my age, or some regular activity, sooner. I spent a lot of time doing something for a day, then nothing that wasn’t touristy for three days. I would’ve liked to get more involved with programs like the one we did in the school, but especially programs that I only got to see once.
R: For me, there are a couple places I would’ve liked to spend more time, because we only spent two and a half days there, like Samos, Greece. And Bosnia we went for just a couple hours because we were near the border and that’s how Europe works. It looked like a really interesting place to go, so I would’ve liked to spend more time there. And definitely Dordogne, I really liked living out in the country in this amazing old farmhouse. Just relaxing and running around in the fields. Our trip has really managed to get a lot in, and we’ve gotten a good understanding of the places we’ve been, although I’ll end up coming back to some of these places, for now I feel like I’ve got what I need.
c) What have you missed most about home?
R: Well there’s obviously my cat. That’s the first one. I miss having a room to myself, nothing against my family but… Also, there’s something really relaxing about knowing where you are and understanding things, that’s what I miss is having no worries and being able to go home and be in my space. That’s what I really miss, that and my cat.
C: I’m missing my dog too, of course. Since most of my trip so far has been in South Africa, these are mainly things that I missed are from when I was in South Africa. I really missed having something to do every day, having a schedule to follow, a routine. Vacation is nice, but that was two and a half months of it. We did a lot, we learned a lot, we saw a lot of new things, but I like a schedule and I like feeling productive. By the end I definitely wasn’t feeling productive anymore.
R: I agree, I miss having a project to work on, I sort of channel that into my journaling, blogging but there are times I feel like I’m floating around.
C: Yeah. The other thing I miss is being able to go out in my own city, go to places I know, see people I know. Especially after South Africa I missed the safe feeling and the freedom of being able to get on a bus at night, or going to a coffee shop with a friend. Just the independence, especially because I don’t have a cellphone here. I really liked being able to out into Geneva with my sister and spend the day there without worrying about when we’d be home.
R: When we were in Cinque Terre, we were in a little village of fewer than 500 people at night, I realized how much I missed that, when Kate and I were able to just go out and buy groceries and go to the beach without having a plan or supervision.
d) What do you think you got out of this experience (vs learning in school)?
C: I think that, especially for aspects of school like Social Studies, English, Languages, Music… going to a different country and being in a different culture, with different people, is such a better way of becoming more aware of the world around you. Just sitting in a classroom in privileged Canada I don’t think is doing that much for you whereas when you go to a different country and sit at a dinner table with people who are so different from you, you get a much better rounded view of things. When you’re in school you might learn the dates or the facts, but that’s not going to stick with you. I think it’s really important to be immersed in a different culture and travel and see more of the world than Victoria. They don’t have a subject in school called getting a good world view. You couldn’t. Nothing on pen and paper teaches you to understand how the world works.
R: For me it’s similar but I was really glad we covered so much European history in school. I’ve been doing European studies since Grade seven, so it was really nice having all the background on the Revolution, the Middle Ages and both World Wars, I really appreciated that. But it is so much more interesting seeing it in 3D. You can learn about Roman life, but by walking through the ruins of a place and seeing the way people lived, there is something so much more real about it. There is a level of it that you could never reach through a lesson.
e) Has this made you want to travel more, and to where?
R: I will not want to travel when I get back, I won’t want to leave. It’s really helped me know how I like to travel. I will travel more and I’m sure I’ll do this sort of trip again. I want to visit Norway and New Zealand and India, but I don’t want to be a tourist anymore. I want to be living and experiencing, getting into the culture instead of floating in a tourist bubble.
C: I’ve always know that I want to travel, especially after high school, that I don’t want to go to university in North America, but like you said I think I want to settle somewhere for a bit. I agree it’s a very different experience to be a tourist somewhere than to live and have a part of your life somewhere. I definitely want to travel more. I’m not sure where yet but possibly Germany, or maybe somewhere in Asia. Oh and South America.
f) Which culture has been the most welcoming?
R: On different levels, we were in the Netherlands first, so it’s hard to compare, but when we there it felt very friendly, with the exception of a couple people, everyone was really nice. And they spoke English. They were easy to get along with. The Turkish were always ready to help but you also had to remember that they had a stake in it. Most of the people have really low wages and the cost of living in Istanbul is insane. They need the money they get out of tourists. They were always very nice, but you knew they were profiting from you. There hasn’t been a place where people aren’t welcoming. Also Croatia stands out, where we were staying in Plitvice people were really nice, the hosts were very good.
C: It’s interesting that you say that about the Dutch. In South Africa we knew some couples with connections to the Netherlands. They always said that Dutch people are so mean, that they wouldn’t talk to you and wanted nothing to do with you. Anyway, in South Africa people were generally nice and welcoming, but we weren’t interacting with that many complete strangers. It was mostly people we knew or had some connection with.
g) Have you met any people your age? If so, what did they have to say/what did you talk about/what were they like?
C: I did go to schools when I was in South Africa, where I interacted with lots of people my age. In general they were all nice, but they weren’t always interested in hearing about Canada. A lot of them just wanted to confirm that it was like in the movies, that we had cheerleaders and lived in big houses, and when we were sixteen we all got red sport cars. Many people, not only my age, also didn’t know where Canada was. The US everybody knows about, but it was interesting explaining where I was from. When they asked me where I was from, it was often kind of “What state in the US are you from”, and sometimes I would even get the name of city there. So the minute I wasn’t from the States, I got a blank face.
R: For me, because I haven’t been staying with people I know, the couple interactions I’ve had have really reminded me of home, the rural kids are like my country cousins and the school kids all play games, except here its soccer.
h) Have you felt generally safe in the places you have visited?
R: There hasn’t been a place where we’ve felt threatened bodily, but everywhere you go you are always looking after your bag. There’s a level where you’re always a little wary of people who aren’t a tourist. It’s sad, but when you know you’re bait for a lot of people, it’s hard. I always feel safe except my belongings. The one exception was in the small village in Dordogne and Vernazza, where it’s so small there’s not really a point.
C: I found the same thing; in South Africa you wouldn’t walk around much by yourself with a purse or a cellphone. If I clearly had something, I had to be careful of it. People always told me not to put things in my pockets. I did have one or two experiences of people trying to get me to take out my cellphone. We wouldn’t be out much at night – we were clearly rich tourists. In Europe, I’ve always been weary of crowded public transit, so I’ve always been cautious and uncomfortable around that, but not necessarily because it was unsafe. My sister and I went into Geneva by ourselves and it was totally fine. It wasn’t a problem walking around the city, it was again more our belongings.
i) Did you stand out as a tourist everywhere you went?
R: in places I didn’t speak the language; there was no pretense of me not being a tourist. Also people were really confused by fleece jackets, they were confused by the strange fabric. And our gortex jackets and MEC bags. When we’re on the move it’s very obvious. In France, since our accents are fairly clear and I’d use really formal language to order food, there were cultural differences where things don’t quite work out.
C: In South Africa, while the language was English, our accents were clearly not South African. When people saw me on the street, they wouldn’t think immediately ‘tourist’. But when we first arrived, were in a touristy place or when they heard me talk, people knew I was a foreigner. Since we were also doing a lot of touristy things and I was carrying a South Africa purse… you know. In England we were with family the whole time. In Switzerland there were little things, because I do speak French but not natively, that I had the wrong tendency to do. For example if I was talking to someone giving me instructions or in a store I might say “Salut” as a greeting. This isn’t rude, but it’s not really proper.
j) Local politics/issues/events where you were that you talked to locals about?
C: The main thing in South Africa was the election, because it would mark 20 years since the African National Congress was elected and 20 years since blacks got the vote. Everybody knew how the election would turn out, but people were taking it as a time to reflect on what the ANC has done and what they should’ve done. There were a lot of debates on TV people were talking about. All the locals knew how it would turn out, the ANC would win and the Democratic Alliance would be second, and everybody knew what regions would vote for who in general. Actually it’s funny because the region we were in, the Western Cape, was the only one who’s regional government is not the ANC – it’s the DA. What was really interesting was talking to people who were going to vote ANC, no question. This was not because they like Jacob Zuma, the President, nor because they like the way the ANC has operated for 20 years, but because they were the liberating party in ‘The Struggle’. People are starting to get tired of that reasoning, because that was 20 years ago. There are a lot of people who won’t see past the ANC being the liberation party, and that in their minds they owe them their vote. Basically, a lot of people are unhappy with the ANC, but people will still vote for them. We spent some time watching debates, and what really struck me was how there are so many little parties with three letter initials! So difficult to keep track of. In every debate there would be the ANC, the DA and then two to five random little parties and they were all a bit different. No one can keep track of them, so they get nicknames like ‘the red hat party’, because they all wore red hats, or ‘the racist party’ who were an anti-white party. Also, the ANC has a really big corruption issue, with the whole scandal of President building a mansion, and how all the people in power were friends of Jacob Zuma. This means that a lot of them aren’t qualified and aren’t the best person for the job. People get very fed up. For example when the minister of public affairs proves to be a complete idiot. In one of the debates someone was accusing the ANC of being corrupt and his answer was “Well what do you expect? We inherited corruption!”. Buddy that was 20 years ago and you still haven’t done anything. But as I said earlier, people are still going to vote for them because they were the freedom party.
R: Well our first time we really heard from a local was in Istanbul. The guy who drove us from the airport was talking about how the economy is growing in Turkey, but how that’s not working its way down to the citizens. So it’s still really expensive to live in Istanbul, and it’s really hard to get by and support their families. And then when we were going from Turkey to Greece, the pension where we stayed in Turkey arranged our hotel in Greece. They were these two families that were friends who would go back and forth during holidays. But at the same time because of the religion factor, there was a wistful remembering of when parts of Turkey were Greek, which in some ways goes back thousands of years. Then there were the whole European elections, that I wrote a long essay on, but in general reading election posters. And having been in France and seen the climate here and seeing the cities where most of the immigrants are, it just gave a different aspect.
R: We have an ongoing collection of tickets, pamphlets, every single place we’ve been. But the biggest collection are digital, with photos, my blog and my journal. I’m really behind on writing my (physical, handwritten) journal, because my blog became my journal. But now it’s the record of my teenage moments. And then there are the pictures, we have so many pictures.
C: I actually ran into a problem with my camera because it has a setting where if you have so many pictures, you can’t download them and you have to delete them manually. Then the computer ran out of space! But I’ve been mainly collecting currency from the various countries we visit as I find it so interesting to see the different looks of money. It’s not the easiest things to ask people for though, even if it’s an honest cause!