My upbringing gave me gifts, I had never realised. Judging people on account of their colour or creed was just not considered acceptable in my family when I was little. In fact my father had made sure I knew about the Holocaust from a very early age. I had never considered myself racist until my biracial Jamaican friend had told me a little about her life. I had realised that even I had internalised some negative beliefs. She has told me recently that her parents, who have lived happily in a biracial marriage without problems for upwards of forty years, were now experiencing issues for the first time.
On my travels I have largely felt welcome. In Egypt I was shown great kindness by a Sudanese guy living a very simple life, who was still prepared to share what little he had. Travelling on a train across Russia, I met a lovely Russian woman who was living solely off a bag of apples, yet who had shared them readily. Lost in the middle of Tokyo, my friend and I were befriended by an amazing Japanese girl, who had taken us into her tiny home (space is rather limited in Tokyo) and had helped us find our accomodation. In Mongolia, our Mongolian guide had treated us almost as if we were members of her family. Thank you to all the people whose open hearts have made my travels so worthwhile.
There are cultural differences and these can lead to misunderstandings. I am quite sure I have been inadvertantly rude in many countries in my ignorance, yet I cannot recall one occasion while backpacking, when my cultural transgressions were not patiently forgiven. I got it wrong in Japan, all the time for example. Sorry my Japanese cousins if you are reading this, for all the times I forgot to change slippers in my haste to use the bathroom.
We hosted a lovely Japanese student and I remember her initial discomfort as she had politely stood there, reluctant to do anything until we had issued an invitation. I made some huge mistakes trying to use a Kosher kitchen while working in Israel, once struggling for a good ten minutes trying to work out which particular spoon my employer had wanted me to fetch. I have also had to shepherd my Australian offspring around London, reminding them to keep left on escalators and in other busy situations.
I often wonder what kind of ambassador I have been for my country. Yes I am quite sure I have travelled the world, being inadvertantly offensive as I go. (Please bear with me as I am quite sure I continue to make mistakes), yet as a backpacker I was mostly met with patience and kindness. as I have stumbled my at timesculturally-insensitive way, around the planet. I usually prefer to backpack on my own! I go into a different mode when I backpack. Over the years people have taught me to manage without them.
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