About a year and a half ago, I was sitting at an outdoor table in front of a tiny food stall in the small town of Izamal, Mexico. There was a large group of us and we had all ordered some lunch. After fifteen minutes of waiting, the woman working at the food stall began brining out our food, one plate at a time. The only thing is that what she was bringing us, wasn’t exactly what we had ordered.
And before we knew it, our table was full of more chicken salbutes than we could have possibly wanted to eat, yet there wasn’t a taco or panucho or beef salbute in sight, all of which had been asked for. Some drinks were missing and some drinks were incorrect as well.
Of course, as this was all playing out, it was only natural that there started to be some grumbling as we wondered how this woman had managed to screw up our simple order so much. There was even some talk that maybe she had brought out extra food just to try and get more money from us and the conversation then turned to cheating and ripping foreigners off and how we needed to be careful. The mood around the table had clearly shifted, from happy and jovial to a bit annoyed and upset.
After we finished eating whatever was brought to us, all of which was quite tasty I might add, I went over to the counter and paid the bill. Looking at the piece of paper where she had written our order, I noticed that she had brought us exactly what she had written on that paper. Was it what we had actually ordered? I don’t think so. But given our lack of Spanish fluency and the fact that Spanish was this woman’s second language (Mayan was her first), she did the best she could to decipher what we had said.
Also, in this tiny town of Izamal, large groups is not a common sight at a local food stall, not to mention a group consisting of several foreigners who, once again, for the most part, speak no Spanish and if they do, speak a hacked up version of it. Second, in Mexico, it’s not common to ask a ton of questions when ordering food. You just read the menu, choose something and that’s about it. For many of us, we are used to customizing our orders back home, asking for clarification, asking for more specific descriptions of each dish and so forth, so I can only imagine the confusion we caused by bombarding this woman with our questions, again, in our hacked up Spanish which wasn’t even her first language!
If you look at the situation this way, from an entirely different perspective, you can understand how we might have overwhelmed this food stall in this tiny, laid-back town where life is quite basic and moves at an extremely slow pace.
So, why did we immediately start thinking that we were being cheated and ripped off? Why were we getting upset that our order was not 100% correct?
The thing is that we tend to interpret everything we do/see/experience based on our specific knowledge of how we think the world works, or how it has worked for us throughout our lives. And this knowledge comes from our education, culture, upbringing, social circles and other experiences that we go through. It is not easy for us to first recognize, and then accept, that every situation has an endless number of perspectives depending on the people involved. Everyone brings their own background and culture to the table, something that makes it nearly impossible for two people to interpret the exact same situation in the exact same way.
With the example above at the food stall in Izamal, we wondered why our order was incorrect, something that seems like a perfectly normal reaction in our culture. But as for the woman running the food stall, she tried her very best to do something that she almost never has to do – cater to a large group of foreigners who are asking lots of questions, making adjustments to their orders, speaking terrible Spanish and probably confusing her beyond belief! She didn’t ‘screw up’ our order on purpose. She wasn’t after our money and didn’t try to cheat us at all.
In fact, she always had a smile on her face as she ran around trying to provide good food and good service to us random visitors to her home town. Suddenly the extra salbutes and the lack of tacos and the absence of the agua de tamarindo on the table doesn’t really matter. Whatever this sweet woman brought would be fine with me and I truly appreciated the effort she put into serving us!
Avoiding Unnecessary Negativity
When we travel, we are going to face endless situations, where we interpret things one way and we then react accordingly. And sometimes, this is going to lead us to anger, frustration and a strong feeling of annoyance based on how we think things should work. But if we can somehow force ourselves to take a moment before we react, before we reach a conclusion as to why something has happened, why someone has behaved a certain way, why we are in the situation we are in, and remind ourselves that every situation can be viewed from many different perspectives, we might be able to avoid unnecessary reactions that could impact our travels negatively.
When something happens and you start to get upset or annoyed, look around you. Look at everyone involved and try to think of the reasons they might have for their actions. Think of their culture, their background and influences, their possible life experiences and what may or may not be normal for that person. And remember that we are only seeing the world through our own experiences and that our world view is not the same world view as everyone we come across.
I try to remind myself of this constantly.
And this is how I’ve avoided what I believe to be unnecessary negativity for a long time now. Rarely do I get upset or annoyed or frustrated these days.
Those Rude Locals!
If you’re walking around Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and you get lost, and you walk up to a random taxi driver, asking for directions in English and a few mispronounced Russian words, don’t get upset if you are met with a serious look and a raised hand from the man in the driver seat, as if he was brushing you away. There is a good chance that this man was just shy and not at all used to interacting with foreigners, and he didn’t understand your attempt at Russian, and he didn’t speak a word of English, and maybe that raised hand gesture was his way of saying “I’m sorry, but I just don’t know how to help you”.
It’s the very same situation but, as I’ve pointed out above, it’s a completely different perspective. And while we’ll always tend to believe that our way of interpreting the world is right, believe me when I say that it’s worth the effort to push through that stubbornness and accept the fact that others may see the world and every single experience differently than we do.
What a shame it would be to walk around Bishkek all day unable to enjoy the city because you are annoyed that the Kyrgyz people are unfriendly and not very welcoming based on one misinterpreted interaction!
It happens more often than you may think. Every day we react to hundreds of different experiences, ranging from tiny to major, yet we seldom take into account anyone’s perspective on those situations except for our own. It’s unavoidable to an extent, but we can try to remember, as often as possible, that there is no absolute perspective for any situation we face.
Taking this approach quickly leads to a realization that getting upset or annoyed isn’t really something that makes sense most of the time. It’s usually just a waste of energy that can drain all involved of any happiness they might have been experiencing at the time. And besides, with less anger and frustration in our lives, especially the unnecessary kind, comes a calmer, healthier lifestyle, something that will ensure we enjoy an infinitely more rewarding set of travel adventures as well!
Are you able to view situations from different perspectives and avoid getting upset? Or do you find it challenging to do so? Any other thoughts?