Intrepid Travelers Edition Part II: Celebrating Cultural Voice!


Hello Friends!

As you might remember from our post last week, Christine and I are doing a little traveling. The weather has been warm, wine has flowed and we’ve been enjoying some lovely adventures with friends and family. 

Given my interest in voice and communication, listening to and observing the people around me when I travel is one of my favorite parts. To be fair it’s also an amazing part of living in the always cosmopolitan London. Hearing the rhythms and textures of different languages is a wonderful reminder of human creativity. Deciphering  acts of communication where the words are unfamiliar is a reminder of shared experiences and emotions. 

In the spirit of embracing voice and communication across cultures familiar and foreign today’s post offers a few simple suggestions for how to be a mindful ambassador of your own unique cultural voice:

  • Be aware of your surroundings and their significance. I’ll face right up to this one. As a citizen of the USA the perception I’m often met with in other countries is that my communication will be loud, brash and twangy. Which it is sometimes. Frankly it comes in handy making friends (or getting a drink) out at bar, beach, sporting event or anywhere lively. However when I find myself in a more hallowed location I try to be mindful of my volume (or just silent) and quietly considerate of my body language. 

To many of us this sounds starkly obvious but I think it’s important to maintain an awareness. I had an interesting experience in Paris this week. Walking through Sacré-Coeur I was surprised at how many tourists were being slightly noisy and not very considerate of those around them, it made me a bit sad. Later in the day I went to the famed book shop Shakespeare and Company and although it was similar cycle of tourists moving through, there was this wonderful quiet and patience that allowed me to absorb the environment with much more presence. Two spaces, sacred in their own ways, and two very different sets of behavior.

  • Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Traveling has lots of extremes: thrills, exhaustion, heat, frustration, release. There’s a whole spectrum of feeling to be experienced. It’s important to remember this can take its toll at the low points and deserves to be savored at the high points. Our breath helps with both. Stressed out after running for your flight? Lost something important? Dealing with someone difficult? Take a few moments to send the breath to your lower belly. It can help to find a little pattern: inhale for 5, hold for 5, exhale for 5 (we’re talking seconds here). You’ll soothe your nervous system and hopefully find your way back to vacation mode. Looking at a beautiful sunset? Enjoying an amazing meal? Sharing a unique moment with a loved one? Get a little mindfulness and gratitude boost by actively breathing in the scene and sending your focus to the feet to feel grounded and present.

Giving yourself the space to take things in and find a moment of self-care will help you communicate with more patience, clarity, and openness.

  • Use your mouth! (Haha.) But really. In places where the language is different to yours don’t be afraid to give it a whirl! My French may be clumsy and probably sounds very sad to French people but it’s fun brain exercise and the gesture is always appreciated. Even the most aloof Parisienne will have the slightest softness to their steely gaze if you address them in French first. They may immediately speak to you in English but it’s the effort that counts. Again I realize this sounds like travel 101 but from a communication perspective it makes your experience all the richer. You also get a real taste of the sounds and shapes of a language which is great for cultivating mindfulness in speech generally. 

It can feel vulnerable trying to speak in a way that’s unfamiliar but try to find grace in that. If you’re corrected, remember it’s just a way someone’s trying to help even if it seems a tad blunt. Ask questions, pick up new expressions. For those of us who encounter tourists regularly, (I’ll be the first to admit it can be a bit grating) remember you’re in a position of power. You can make someone’s day and experience memorable for all the right reasons with a little kindness and time.

Traveling through France at the moment it’s impossible not to consider the horrific tragedy in Nice last week. Fortunately there are productive things we can do to combat hate and terror. One of the simplest is to travel, to learn about the people we share this planet with. Another, whether traveler or host, is to have the courage to communicate with openness and compassion toward other cultures, and each other. 

Take good care and travel well!


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