Why I Stopped Lying about being American when I Travel

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When I was a kid we spent every Memorial Day Weekend at a magical lake. Okay, so the lake wasn’t magical, but the memories I have there, are. Three whole days were filled to the brim with canoeing, archery, finding newts and beaver dams and building “survival fires.”

But one of the best memories I have from those trips, happened at the end. It was a tradition we called, “Stone Soup.” You might have been told the story when you were a kid, or been read the book, but in case you’re not aware of the tale, here’s a recap:

Once upon a time there was a boy who came to a village, seperated by differences. He promised the villagers he could make a soup that would amaze and astound them, because he had a magic stone. Since he was a stranger, and they had trust issues, they thought about kicking him out of the town. But they were kinda sorta also bored from village life, so magic sounded like a welcome distraction. So…they let him try out his magic, and probably whispered some threats about what would happen if he didn’t live up to his promises (but they wouldn’t put that in a children’s book, now would they?).

Anyhoo, he told the villagers that the only way the magic would work is if he had the right ingredients. Those went something like this: vegetables, meat, spices, flour etc. 

Sound familiar? Yeah, those are all the ingredients people use for soup. 

But the villagers weren’t so bright, so they each offered up what they had, and threw it in the pot, and they were amazed by the bubbling, beautiful soup that came out of all of his efforts. 

The point isn’t that the boy was kind of a fraud. It’s that, when everyone comes together, and brings what they have, magic happens. When I was a kid, this meant making some pretty delicious soup.

Now, as an adult, I kind of feel this way about hostels. I know, I know, that was a jump. But hear me out.

When I get to a hostel, I literally have no idea who I’m going to meet. I’ve been coming to the hostel I’m in right now for over 3 years, and the experiences have never once been the same. For instance, this time I’m up writing at 3am, because jet-lag is a monster that’s trying to ruin my life.

Yesterday was the first day of my backpacking trip (#Europe2017) and last night I got to talk to some of the girls in my hostel room. I’m a pretty strong introvert, but I absolutely love meeting new people when I travel. Two of the girls in my room are from South America, and one is from Mexico.

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t tension when she when she found out I was American, and I said,”We’re neighbors!” Because there definitely was.

As we talked more, though, we figured out we had a lot in common. Like we’re both hostel jumpers on the second act of our twenties. We both like going to bed early. We like to laugh at drunk people on pub crawls, rather than being the drunk people. And we both love to travel.

Travel brings people together. It’s the “magic stone” in the pot of life that requires nothing except that you contribute an open mind, and your own experiencs. It’s amazing to think back on the people I’ve met, even in this one hostel. People from literally all over the world who are brought together to learn, laugh and make some (sometimes embarassing) memories.

This is also the reason I’ve decided not to lie and tell people I’m Canadian on this trip. I know, you might snort thinking,”Why would she lie?” Well, little ducks, it’s because not all Americans are the golden children we wish they could be. And Canadians are hella chill. Seriously. I could hug the whole country.

Despite it being a pretty easy thing to pull off, because my accent sounds pretty similar, (especially to people with English as a second language), I think it’s more important than ever for me to say I’m American.

Why?

Because the reality is that our country has showed the world a very dark side of itself. And while I know that we can spit quotes about majorities, the reality of the situation is that the rest of the world is not exactly thrilled with our choices. Heck, I’m not exactly thrilled.

That being said, I really do think it’s so important for Americans who travel to claim their country (and yes, I know I’m not the only one who’s lied). It’s important for us to show people that Americans are not represented by the hate they see in media.

It’s important for us to take time to laugh and talk and make weird secret handshakes with people from all over the word. Because the reality is, you could be the only American they ever meet. Think about that for a second.

You represent your entire country. Obviously not all of the time, but I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say it’s probaby more often than you think.

In each country I’m visiting, this trip, I’m making it my goal to sit down with someone who lives there, to just talk about life. That might not sound groundbreaking. But if you can change someone’s life and the lens they view the world through, I’d say that’s pretty huge.

So take time to listen, and take time to tell your story. More now than ever. Because you might never know the impact that late night bunkbed chats in hostel rooms might have.

 

Why Netflix And I Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

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Can I just say: I love being back in the U.S. Will I always live here? Probably not. But at the moment I am having a pretty splendiferous time of it. Coming back to Seattle was not an easy decision. There were a handful of people who thought I should stay in Paris, and others who thought I was crazy for choosing to move back from Europe at all.

But in the true middle finger to the world approach I adopted from my time in France, I could care less what their opinions are.

Because, when it comes down to it, this is my life. My decisions. And I’m the only one calling the shots on which direction I go. I would definitely encourage those who feel like Paris is the Mecca for happiness to move there themselves. (It was not, and never could possibly be, for me.)

ANYWAY…Being back in the good ‘ole US of A has been so much more of an adjustment than I ever thought it would be. It’s funny, but you don’t really even realize how many things you get used to when you’re living in another country. Like bananas.

French bananas DO NOT taste the same as the ones we get here (or fruit in general). And at first that really bothered me. But over the course of 10 months I guess I got used to it, and I wasn’t even aware of the fact…until I got back to the now watery tasting ones in Seattle.

Beyond the fruit revelations, I’ve also experienced so many levels of culture shock from being back. And as weird as it sounds, one of the hardest things I’ve encountered is keeping up with English/English speakers!

While obviously I haven’t forgotten how to speak English, I do have quite a bit of difficulty (still, after 3 weeks!) of finding the correct words for sentences, or speaking conversationally. There are a couple of reasons that I think are to blame for this. On the one hand, I obviously didn’t speak English in France, unless I was with one of my friends or the family I lived with. But on the other hand, I just didn’t really speak that much in general! Now looking back on the past year, I’m realizing just how incredibly silent I became. It feels so odd to be able to express myself without checking my vocabulary for the simplest form of a word and I keep having these moments when I think “Wow! I can read/respond without thinking to that!”

Is forgetting you’re fluent in a language standard after living in a country where it isn’t primarily spoken? Maybe it’s just me.

While I was living in France, I also didn’t have a phone for pretty much the entirety of my time there, so having the ability to call/text/use my smartphone outside of a Wifi zone is the oddest feeling. To be absolutely honest, I still kind of get freaked out when I get a text or phone call.

And despite the general joy of being back in my hometown, there are some things that will NOT be being reintroduced into my life, one of which will be Netflix/Hulu. Both of these sites were absolute addictions prior to my moving…and I guess that makes sense – I love movies, and I always have. BUT the mindlessness and the numbing effect that comes as a package deal is not okay.

In fact, that is one of the biggest things I’m observing and trying to keep from slipping into while in the U.S. Numb distractions.

I never noticed before how much over stimulation there is in the United States. Let’s all take a step back for a second and observe a few: There are more TV shows than we could ever hope to watch (but you’re expected to keep up with all of them), there are more activities than you’ll ever have time to do (how do you not run, do yoga, rock climb and go on a 10 mile hike EVERY DAY!?), more food options than you could possibly choose from, and more technological (sorry, mom) shit than you could ever possibly need. For instance, my iPhone 4s is like six generations behind, and I’ve only been gone for a year!?

Clarification: it still works fine. It still calls, texts, connects to Wifi and my data plan and takes decent photos, and yet…since I’ve been here all I’ve heard about is the latest smartphones and people calling generations that came out two months ago ‘ancient.’

The craziest part is that in spite of all of these 5 million things to keep us occupied, every person I’ve talked to since I’ve been here hates their job, and is constantly trying to escape through said distractions. And don’t even get me started on how messed up the whole, by age 22 most of us are in more debt than we’ll be able to pay off for 20 years, thing.

Okay, I’ll stop ranting. Like I said, there are so many amazing things I love about the United States, also. But one of the biggest things I’ve had to start doing since being here is simply saying no. NO NO NO NO NO. I don’t want to engage in this frothing at the mouth competition to impress people I don’t like in order to create a life where I’m constantly plugging in to something to forget I hate it. NO!

Because if there’s one thing I DID learn about living in Europe, it’s that my true friends love me when I have absolutely nothing to give, nothing to share, no way to repay and nothing to contribute. I am loved as I am. I don’t need to impress anyone, and I don’t need to be running around trying to keep up with whatever the next trend to hit the streets is.

Because when it comes down to it, these are distractions from what I really want to do with my life. These are things that kept me, for many years, from really pursuing things I was passionate about. They are pop up signs, advertisements and shiny gadgets that will not make me happy. And while each, in itself, is not necessarily harmful, the amassed collection is turning us into a nation of ravenous hoarders (of wealth, of technology, of perfectly filtered Instagram photos), blind to how blessed we already are.