Have you ever found yourself in a foreign place, shame faced and wondering what the **** is going on? Have you ever been totally sober, entered a bar in Thailand and had a smiling Thai woman (actually maybe it was a dude?!) throw water all over you and run away?
You iron your hair, put on your make-up, go out for your first drink and get doused with water and you don’t know why!
You get on board with the local custom even if your hair is starting to frizz and your make-up is running and you’re starting to look like a drag queen who’s been yanked through a hedge backwards.
A sense of humour failure? Me? Never! A couple of drinks later and you’re throwing water on strangers too, oblivious to their indignation?!
You finally make it to bed at who knows what ridiculous hour and get a great night’s sleep. You wake up to thundershowers and black skies. Instead of braving the weather and venturing out to visit the Royal Palace or the flea market (you can go the next day when it’s sunny) you decide to hide away at the cinema.
There is a film you have been dying to see for weeks and it isn’t playing at home anymore. As luck would have it there is an afternoon showing only two blocks away. You are relaxing, back in your comfort zone waiting for your English language film to come on and suddenly a man walks in, says something in Thai (say what?), and everyone jumps up and stands to order for the national anthem before the King (on screen).
Nevermind, the film sucked by the way! On your way home you stop off at the street market to buy some cheap clothes that you don’t need. But they are so inexpensive; you lose out if you don’t buy them. You have suddenly gone from being a fairly consistent medium back home to being extra-large in Thailand! Great!
Oh yeah that’s right, it’s a different country.
Travelling without your sense of humour is a fatal mistake.
If you are coming to Occitanie, there are a couple of things to remember…….
Seriously, this is important. Greeting people is a very serious matter.
Socially you nearly always kiss (faire la bise). If you are meeting people for the very first time, sometimes you shake hands. Just let ‘them’ take the lead. If they lean in, you lean in (for the air kiss). If they go left, you go right, but let them go first or risk an embarrassing and unplanned smack on the lips.
Once on each cheek in Toulouse but in Aveyron they seem to do three; some places in the north they do it four times. Seriously, have they nothing better to do?
Believe it or not in the work environment people greet by kissing too.
A friend of mine (French I might add) has tried every trick in the book to avoid the morning kiss to EVERYONE who works near her. She has been ‘on the phone’ when her colleagues arrive. No dice, they just wait. She has ‘had a cold’ but one can’t have a cold all the time. She has even tried hovering behind her desk seemingly very busy doing something but they just walk right around her desk and bring ‘la bise’ to her! There’s no getting around it.
If you are in a shop and you would like the attention of the employee, your first words should be “bonjour madame or monsieur” and then your question. Strangely enough “excuse me” is rude. Go figure?!
Different country, different custom.
There used to be a great guitar shop in Boston, on Boylston St., called First Act. Back in the wonderful days when one pound bought two dollars we went to this shop and were excited by all the guitars made locally, upstairs actually. We ended up buying one each.
Although he was not unpleasant, the guy who ran the shop was looking me up and down a bit, and kind of biting his lip. He finally told me that I would enjoy Boston more and get better service if I removed my hat.
I was only wearing a N.Y. Yankees baseball cap because of the rain, which turns my perfectly good hairdo into a frizzy disaster in minutes. I hadn’t even realized I was wearing it. I took it off, shrugged and asked if it was really important. He said “YES”, thanked me, and then gave me a discount.
Stade Toulousain is the local team in Toulouse and rugby is important. When travelling in Occitanie it can’t hurt to know your local rugby team and their colours. I’m not saying you will get any discounts but it is a good way to start a conversation.
As with every culture I would avoid discussing politics around here. This is mostly because you will probably be in for a painfully long conversation when you should be out enjoying the sights.
We were warned not to wear yellow or red T-shirts in Thailand, so as not to appear supportive to either side. Yankees caps in Boston are a no-no and wearing a yellow vest has recently become a ‘political’ or should I say ‘anti-political’ statement here in France.
Keeping it in check when we are abroad, opening our minds and keeping our mouths temporarily closed. It’s our duty!
I try to keep my views to myself when I am travelling but then I get behind a computer and it is kind of like Virginia Woolf said,
“As I write, there rises somewhere in my head that queer and very pleasant sense of something which I want to write; my own point of view….”
Follow me to keep up with my on my travels around beautiful Occitanie………à bientôt Christina