Subject: Re: Mixing with the locals
Frances and Ziners,

What an interesting thread.

We often rent a house in a French village, so mixing with locals is easy with a morning walk to the news agent, to the cafe for coffee and on to the food and wine sellers for a dinner purchase. Despite my ability to speak French, we have run into funny situations.

The news agent holds the Herald Tribune for us, the cafe owner has learned that we sometimes forget to pay him so we settle up the bill later, and the bakery owner waits for our morning visit. The best experience I've had is with the grocery store owners. One day, in a rush to buy frozen peas as an ice pack for an injured knee, I had to explain the situation. I met a blank look. Why would I use peas for this purpose? The next day, I bought toilet paper but forgot to bring my bag. The fact that I was prepared to walk through the village with toilet paper in my arms was too much for her. I believe we are now known as "les Canadiens impairs".

A few days later, I had the hiliarious experience of trying to buy breast of chicken. The butcher didn't (or pretended not to) understand my attempt to explain what I wanted. In the next five minutes be brought out various cuts of meat from the freezer and told me the names of all so I now know all the cuts of meat in proper French.

The day we were leaving the village, we visited the news agent, the baker, the cafe owner and the grocery store owners to say good-bye. The newspaper was set aside for us, our coffee was ready and the butcher had a big smile on his face. He gave me a big handshake and asked: "Will we see you next year?"

We will be visiting again in 2007. I'm looking forward to my next lesson in buying the butcher's victuals and will remember to bring a carry bag. Mixing with the locals is the best part of travel, even if you sometimes feel foolish.

As for custom, I can offer up two situations when I was caught off-guard. In Beijing we were guests at a dinner and I had to visit the Ladies' room. I told the hostess and she said that she would accompany me. The "Ladies" was outside the restaurant in a laneway. Fine with me. What was interesting was that she said: "I'm glad that you have to use the facilities, because I do too." She was not prepared to leave the table until I, as the female guest, made a move. Something to remember. In Kathmandu, we were again the guests at a dinner and, beforehand, everyone mingled and met. I met the Dutch Ambassador and immediately put out my hand to shake his. He reminded me that, in Nepal, this is not the custom so when I was introduced to the Nepali guests, I was ready to bow my head, fold my hands and say "Namaste".

Always adapt to local custom and be humble. We are visitors to the countries on this planet.

Lucy, Toronto, Canada