Three years ago Mike and I embarked on our travel adventure. We left the US with two suitcases each and a camera to take pictures of the places we traveled too. We also took our American mindset with us.
Where this mindset really got an awakening was in every café and restaurant we visited on every other continent and in countries around the world. When we first began to travel we would sit down in a restaurant and huff if we didn’t get our menu and our water within two minutes. We would wonder if the waiter was on strike if they didn’t return to take our order in five minutes and heaven forbid if the food wasn’t served within 15 minutes we wondered if they forgot about us all together.
Then life and living outside of the US took hold. We learned to enjoy our time out and we learned that other cultures actually spend more time socializing with each other than stressing about making the next big meeting or being somewhere on time. Other people in other cultures actually learn more about each other and communicate with each other without using text messaging and email because they sit and talk to one another face to face over a cup of coffee or a meal.
We also learned that no restaurant would hurry us or expect us to pay within an hour’s time of sitting down. Most cultures would wonder what our hurry was if we asked for the check within a two hour time frame. In some countries we literally had to beg to get the check so that we could be on our way. We learned in all these other countries to relax and enjoy our food, our surroundings and the company of those with us.
Recently, after returning to the US, I made lunch dates with several people I hadn’t seen in a very long time so that we could sit, chat and catch up. I chose the restaurant and we proceeded to talk, for 3 hours. Because of our recent travel lifestyle I was so comfortable in being in a restaurant for hours on end that I had forgotten that in the US people expect us to eat and be gone within an hour of entering their establishment. It was after we had been chatting for an hour and a half that I realized that the waitress was coming by more often to see if we needed anything and she would take away an item or two. Around two hours in she stopped bringing us water to drink thinking that perhaps if our throats were dry we might just go away. It was around 2.5 hours in that I realized that all the tables in the place had been full, then emptied and then full again but never once was there anyone standing around waiting for a table. At 3 hours we got up to leave and the place was mostly empty. The waitress didn’t even say goodbye.
Years and years ago in my family Sunday was family day. We would visit with family and be together all day eating and talking and playing games. I still remember those days fondly and I’m glad we did them. What other cultures have that many Americans have lost is the art and mindset that sitting and chatting with other people on a daily basis is more important than making a fortune for your employer or that rushing to get things done is productive and worthwhile.
I have to wonder that at the end of our life are we going to recount how fast we ran our errands and how quickly we did all our chores so we could make the next big meeting or make a deadline? Or will we think back to the good times we had with family and friends? Will we remember the picnics and the dinner parties and the birthday’s we went too and the sound of a child’s laugh?
Yes traveling and living in others countries is something that I won’t soon forget. I also won’t forget that taking the time to eat and socialize with others is just as important as working. I won’t be in a hurry to leave a restaurant when I’m bonding with the person I’m with because that relationship I’m building means more than speeding to get to my next appointment. In our short time living outside the US and learning how other cultures live I have to wonder, America, what’s our hurry?