Skip to content

Lessons learned through Travel – Thank you but no thank you?

Typically when you travel to another country with different norms than yours, you learn lessons the hard way.
japanese art

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

japanese artTypically when you travel to another country with different norms than yours, you learn lessons the hard way. Here’s two examples I faced.

In 1979, when I was a nineteen-year-old studying at a Japanese university, I spent a weekend with a Japanese family who participated in a 3-day exchange program offered by the school.  The family wanted to meet an American and for their teenage daughter to practice her English.  I volunteered and had a lovely weekend touring the city of Gifu with the parents and daughter.  In their home, I admired a woodblock print hanging on their wall.  The father took it down and gave it to me.  “Thank you!” I said.  When I returned to the home of the Japanese family I was living with that year, my host father shook his head and looked down when I told him the story.  I was so ashamed as he told me that they had to give the art to me because I admired it.  I should have said “thank you but no thank you.”  He pointed out the piece was signed by the artist and explained how well-known this artist was in our region of Japan.  I was shamefaced.

Twenty years later I had an opposite experience in Brazil. A parent of a Deaf child I taught in Brazil, stood in the school hallway conveying her appreciation of my mentoring her daughter.  She wore an odd finger watch, something I’d never seen.  A small expandable band holding a tiny face.  Carla took it off her finger and placed it in my palm.  “For you,” she said with teary eyes.  “For all you do.”  Immediately I told her I couldn’t take it.  I knew that watch cost her a small fortune considering the meager wages she earned.  Plus, I knew I’d never wear the bulky piece of jewelry.  Her face fell and I knew I said the wrong thing so commenced to back track.  “I was only doing my job teaching your daughter and I don’t think I should receive anything more than my salary.”  Carla lit up and explained how I could accept the watch and I would not get in trouble.  It was a personal gift.  I accepted it and hugged her.

Giving gifts appropriately is as important as receiving gifts.  It’s quite uncomfortable and often rude to be caught without a gift in a culture that exchanges gifts.  Be sure you give something that is appropriate to the occasion.  I once witnessed an American woman give boxes of Ninja Turtle Band-Aids to the principal of a school in China – I wonder what she was thinking?  I was caught short one time as I gave a teacher in Estonia a bag of pencils and pens for her class as I ashamedly saw that each student not only already had writing utensils, but also had electronic tablets.

Before you travel to another country, learn about gift-giving.  You don’t want to be caught without a gift, or handing your host an inappropriate gift or accepting a gift when you shouldn’t be.   These many years later, I still have the Japanese print on my wall and the watch in my jewelry box in remembrance of how generous people have been to me with their gifts; how kind in forgiving my cultural faux pas and to remind me to know what is expected of me before I enter another culture.

How did you like this story? 1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Loading…

More Stories to Explore

A woman is signing to the camera.

Latina Woman in Kenya

What does it mean to be a proud Latina woman in Kenya–a country that does not recognize your identity? Watch Norma Moran’s story.

Do You Want To Share a Story?

drop us a story and keep in touch