06 October 2014

The Two-Headed Traveler, As Seen by Someone from Krakozhia

A couple of months ago, I met a bunch of people visiting Berlin. They were friends of friends, and let's say they come from Krakozhia. I don't want to reveal their country of origin, since I don't want this post to be misinterpreted as playing on stereotypes from this country, or worse, racist. That is not the point. I could see this happening from citizens from the United States, the Philippines, from a European country, basically, as long as someone doesn't have a good idea of how the rest of the world is, then this is perhaps bound to happen.

Anyway, I was having dinner with the Krakozhian family. And sometime during the evening, the topic of travel was raised. And yes, since I am planning a three-week backpacking trip somewhere this coming winter, I told the Krakozhians that I am heading to three countries this December. I got funny looks. It's because it seems that the Krakozhians' idea of vacation is London, Paris, Barcelona, or Rome. When we told the Krakozhians that we were in Tuscany last March, they all swooned and collectively said "Oh, Tuscany!" And when I told them of my backpacking destinations in the past and future, they gave me strange looks as if I came from outer space and had two heads.

One of the Krakozhians said that when they go on vacation, they don't want to think about where they will sleep, and what they will eat. They don't want to worry about vaccinations and other health risks. They asked me whether I have been to India. I haven't yet, but I am definitely not opposed to it. They said that they don't want to go, because they think that there's so much poverty and that they think they cannot handle it. I said that that is the unfortunate reality of most people in the world, and maybe you're simply escaping from reality.

As the hours went by, it became obvious that the Krakozhian family wasn't well-traveled. They were asking about our lives here in Berlin. And somehow, all their questions were always framed from the Krakozhian point of view. "Do you have pubs here like we have pubs in Krakozhia?" "Is the food here as good as the food in Krakozhia?" "How about public transportation, is it as good or worse than Krakozhia?" And here I was, getting annoyed in the inside of my head, yet unfortunately I couldn't show it for reasons of politeness, but I wanted to scream, "Why does it have to be always in comparison to Krakozhia?!"

I dunno, I almost got a patronizing feeling from the Krakozhians, when they determined that our lives here in Berlin are also as good as one's life in Krakozhia. It almost felt like they would be pitying us if our life in Berlin didn't measure up to their lives in Krakozhia.

See, I almost got offended. But in hindsight, I realized that they only got this effect on me because they weren't well-traveled. Perhaps, they have a smaller world than I am, perhaps the only world they know is Krakozhia, and they really have no clue about the rest of the world, as well as how much outsiders know of the world, including Krakozhia. In fact, I asked them which airport they used to get to Berlin (Berlin has two airports), and when they told me which one, I guessed "Oh, you must have used Krakozhia Airlines!" They were surprised that a Filipino knew the existence of Krakozhia Airlines! Sure, I might be an airline geek, and can tell you what airline you will most likely take if you're flying from Vladivostok to Fiji. But still, the world is more connected than what they might think, and most people know plenty of things that aren't necessarily from their own little bubble of a homeland.

I don't know, this reminded me of an incident way back, in Buffalo, when I was in a party in someone's backyard, and there was a Nigerian and a Ghanaian who were there. The American host wasn't well-traveled at all, and when the question of how far Nigeria is from Ghana, someone explained that it's about the distance from New York to Maine. Yet they heard it as Main, and thought Main Street.

I suppose knowledge is power. The more you know, the more your mind gets opened. And so many people's minds are still closed. And I am not only talking about travel here, seriously.

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