Interaction On The Road
I can see someone being a little tentative to leave any Western country: a shooting here, a bombing there, protests once a week, civil wars, terrorism, religious extremism. That is to say, the only “normal” people to interact with are the ones back home – correct?
The reality is far from what you see on the news.
Yes, the world is not a 100% safe place; risks abound with travel beyond your borders. There are people out there who genuinely want to harm you because of your ethnic background, your government’s policies or simply because you look like a naive tourist. But on the other hand, we have all sorts of violent incidents going on back home every day of the week. Therefore, the “there are so many crazy people out there so I am going to stay home” attitude is foolish.
Ignorance is Not Bliss. It is Simply Ignorance
There are loads of peaceful, giving and friendly people out there — including those who thankfully lack preconceived notions about your home country and genuinely want to get to know you (and not your wallet). And this is exactly one of the main reasons to travel; to intimately get to know the people on this planet to better understand them and humanity: to know their food, their dress, their traditions, their music, their language and, most importantly, their thoughts.
Time Isn’t Always On Your Side
Do you work in a country, do a homestay or Couchsurf to get to know the people better? These are not bad ways to learn about a culture if you have time, but they are not always necessary. Travel presents many brief interactions to unlock the hidden door to their culture.
Just talk with everyone who you interact with: drivers, shop owners, fellow passengers on the bus or food vendors. The position you are in as a foreigner is a unique one, especially in areas where Westerners rarely show their faces. It is like you are given a free pass to another world that you never thought existed.
Don’t squander this opportunity.
Talk to Everyone
Random strangers are real people, with quirks, personalities and stories. Many tourists want to go to places off the beaten path – the secret places that no one else knows about, the non-touristic places. Do we really need somewhere away from all the tourists to get the feeling of authenticity or to have a truly memorable experience? You only need to look at the people around you – truly look, communicate, smile. The rest falls into place. If you try to connect to everyone – someone sitting across from you on the subway – it is often amazing the stories you hear. Travel makes you more open to random connections by being fascinated by the interaction between people.
Getting outside of your comfort zone, even at home, is a start to getting off the beaten path. It is not necessary to go to isolated places, but remain open to the many human interactions available everyday. It is not about the far-flung places, because in the busiest of cities, you will find connections and new friendships.
To follow your dreams, you need to keep moving along that path even in the face of negativity. It is a work in progress, one fraught with challenges. A chasm of uncertainty opens up the moment you quit your job and take off to a foreign place. We all follow our own path and make our own choices – there are so many choices, so why not risk doing the thing you want to do? Take that risk.
People Are People
Tuk tuk drivers and touts are people too. It might sound obvious, but we have seen so many backpackers behaving angrily towards tuk tuk drivers or wearing t-shirts that say things like, “No Tuk Tuk, No Massage, No Watch.” Wearing a shirt like this is just plain rude.
It might as well say, “I don’t care about you or your culture. I am just here for beer, drugs, and sex.”
I have met a few locals during my travels who once drove tuk tuks. They all have the same story. They came from a small village to the tourist town to improve their lives and to better themselves. They taught themselves a little English, talked to tourists to learn more, and worked long hours every day. For most men, driving a tuk tuk is a stepping stone.
The same goes for the people selling souvenirs, tours, and guide services.
It helps them earn a bit of money so that they can go to school, learn English, get a better job, and one day have enough money to get married, raise a family, and maybe own a house.
If you don’t want to take a tuk tuk, that’s cool. But when a driver asks you if you want a ride, respond to him like you’re speaking to an actual human being – someone with feelings, problems, and dreams. Make eye contact, be polite, say thank you, and smile. Maybe crack a joke or just say “we like to walk.”
Above all, remember, these guys are not on the street to be a pain in your ass. That $2 ride they are offering would actually go a long way to helping them take a step up the ladder of life.
I have found that when I started treating tuk-tuk drivers like people, they started treating me the same way, and instead of hounding me to use their service, they smiled and joked and laughed along with me.