Pilsner photo courtesy of me; Anejo photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By the light of the Pilsner, I smell like a curry.
And I’m highly conscious of this fact as I sit here in a Prague restaurant, eating right-on-the-money goulash and sipping on some fresh Pilsner Urquell (well, maybe not “sipping,” let’s be real). I’ve just come from my hotel spa, where I was drenched head to toe in Ayurvedic oils made up of all the herbs that create a rocking tikka masala, and now I smell like a Mumbai kitchen. One that cooks goulash and serves Czech beer.
This whole business trip just reinforces what I soak in every time I travel–the world at large is becoming more and more of a cultural mash-up. Ethnically, culturally, culinarily, musically, and in so many other ways, the lines just don’t exist in the way they did even fifty years ago. The sidebar here is that this mixing-up also really underlines where forced lines do still exist, making those cases so much more of a head-shaker.
I can’t dwell on this concept for too long, though–I’m concerned that the Brits at the next table can smell the cumin coming out of my pores. As retired Brits do, they’re on a quick little weekend jaunt here to Eastern Europe. Just a hop, really. They’re discussing New Zealand, and reminiscing about that recent excursion. These folks go. They just go. Because it’s there to see, and they have the financial means to see it. I know wealthy people (or at least wealthy enough to travel) who couldn’t locate New Zealand on a map.
My business colleague could do that, however, as he is a card-carrying Kiwi. His version of the word “yes” has about 18 vowels in it. He said that word repeatedly the other evening (no, not like that) as we were drinking good tequila at a Mexican cantina in downtown Prague. This was classic cultural fondue–our Mexican friend, having been offended by the crap tequila served to his colleagues on their recent trip to Mexico DF, required that we go out with him to get a taste of the good stuff. So, it was anejo all around–for the Swiss guy from Geneva, the Italian from Milano, the aforementioned Mexican, the card-carrying Kiwi (all of whom reside in Switzerland), and little ‘ole me, the Pittsburgh gal pretending to be a Jersey Girl, who actually lives in Florida. All of us sucking down (actually, we were indeed technically sipping in this case) high-quality tequila in the Czech Republic, joking our half-toasty asses off in English.
Here’s where I have it easy. My job is global. My colleagues, such as the aforementioned hodgepodge of cantina-frequenters, come from all walks of life and all parts of the globe. However, as with the vast majority of multinational corporations, the official language of business is English. Yes, it’s taught widely around the world, but think about this: what if any job for which you applied required you to conduct business daily in that language you took because you had to in high school? Tough, right? Yet this is what global professionals do as a matter of course, whether their mother tongue is Czech or Chinese.
Per the Department of State, there were approximately 121.5 million valid U.S. passports in circulation in 2014 (http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/statistics.html). And the Census Bureau tells us that the current estimated population of the US is roughly 320.7 million souls. So, per my handy iPhone calculator, it sounds like about 38% of my fellow Americans own a passport. Think about that. Almost 200 million Americans have never been outside the US / Mexico / Canada trifecta. Yes, we have a sweet surplus of natural variety within those borders, from deserts to snowcaps to beaches on which to sip excellent margaritas featuring good tequila. And yes, you have, count ’em, three principal languages floating around, along with many others in ethnic hotspots all over the place. And yes, this geographic footprint is fricking huge.
But there’s a world. There’s a world that’s outside of What We Know, a place where you may not find a subway or a Starbucks, a place that will open your eyes in a way they never have been before. A place that will give you an even greater understanding of time and of the human experience. It may take you out of your comfort zone or even scare you a little, but it will exhilarate you even more. And when you get back home, your latte will have a whole new meaning. But don’t say that to my Italian friend–to him, it’s Italian espresso or bust. The Swiss can’t even get it right. And the Americans? Don’t even mention it. Melting pot or not, some things are just not fondue material, I suppose.