Would you like to think globally but stay locally? Then you should follow in my footsteps. I got the benefits of trotting the globe without the risks and hassles. Instead of being a world traveler, I just married one.
Yes, my wife is a cosmopolite, who has suffered the giardia, chronic salmonella, and blood amoebas to prove it. I guess that’s why they call it the travel “bug.” I know what you’re thinking: “Sure, she has some digestive issues, but was she ever detained in Peru as a suspected terrorist because the border police had a picture of a terrorist who looked just like her?” I’m surprised you’d even ask since the answer is so obviously “Of course she was.” And don’t bother asking if she lived among tarantulas and scorpions, or swam with piranha and caimans, or killed a bushmaster with her flipflop. You already know the answer. (By the way, “bushmaster” is a deadly pit viper, not a weed eater or some studly actor’s porn name.) The point is you don’t have to travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to sprinkle your conversation with words like “caimans.”
I’ve learned a lot about foreign culture and customs from Carolyn’s Peace Corps stories of Brazil—from the comfort of my own home. I’m fascinated by the varying attitudes about what you can and can’t touch in different corners of the world. She explained that Brazilians have different ideas about personal space. When she was standing on a crowded bus, locals routinely would feel her hair, which looked straighter and perhaps softer than their own. Touching a stranger’s body in public wasn’t just acceptable in Brazil; it was customary. As people engaged in tête-à-têtes with her, they’d pat her tummy with the back of their hands. This just meant “I’m talking to you.”
While one’s tummy was up for grabs, one’s house decidedly was not. Knocking on the door of a Brazilian’s house is taboo. The custom there is to stand several feet away from the door and to clap your hands to let the residents know you’ve arrived for a visit. This might sound strange, but until you’ve tried it, don’t knock it.
Carolyn told me she met a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Africa who said house-touching was also verboten where she served. Instead, she had to stand outside the home and loudly yell, “Conk, conk! Conk, conk!” These various door-knocking customs strike me as the basis for a hit kindergarten song, one with a “Knock, knock, clap, clap, conk, conk” refrain.
Ignorance of foreign customs can get actual travelers into trouble. One of Carolyn’s Peace Corps compatriots once killed time waiting on a city street corner by snapping his finger and then slapping his right fist into his left palm. He was soon arrested for obscene gesturing in public. Apparently, what he was doing was the equivalent of brazenly flipping off every passer-by. It was if he was muttering, “Screw you, screw you, and screw you, too!”
Sure, it’s cool to be able to say, “When I was in Urubamba . . . ,” but it’s also cool to say, “When my wife was in Urubamba . . . “. And you can say the latter without subjecting yourself to possible incarceration, eye-water-drinking bugs, or the risk of malaria.
So let your travel-hungry spouses be your passport to a cosmopolitan education. Encourage them to go on trips to Dubrovnik, the Cinque Terre, and the Ring of Kerry with like-minded others. As for you, sail down the Amazon on your La-Z-Boy. Take the Grand Tour from your futon. Get on board the S.S. Sofa for your secret shortcut to safe adventure.
Your journey begins with a single step—a single step down the aisle.