Accents are really funny things. Even a small country like England will have very different accents depending on whether you come from the South, close to London or up in the Midlands.
Canada is the same – especially with the Maritimes. When I first came to Canada I kept asking people if they came from Ireland. They were puzzled and replied “No – I come from Newfoundland.” Well – they sounded very Irish to me!
Sometimes however accents can really surprise you. I was strolling around the market in Jodhpur, India a couple of years ago. Narrow lanes filled with people, noises, smells, shouting and yet somehow a harmony throughout the whole thing.
Naturally being a group of North American tourists we were prime targets for wily salespeople and after a week or so in India we were all becoming a bit immune to this. But then I was approached by a young girl with literally hundreds of bead necklaces offering a handful of these for a few rupees – next to nothing in our money. She had such a sweet smile and although the other ladies in our group waved her away with a smile I weakened and looked at her beads. They were rather pretty. A lot like many of the African beads that would be sold in the markets of Swaziland where I had made my home before coming to Canada. So therefore they were not a novelty to me. But she was persistent and kept smiling.
Then she starting speaking and I stopped in my tracks. My goodness me – was that a tinge of Yorkshire accent that I was detecting? Or could it be Manchester? How very strange!
“Where are you from?” I asked – which was a bit of a stupid question seeing as she was selling beads in a market in Jodhpur dressed in a kurti. Really Lesley – sometimes I wonder.
But she gave me a dimpled smile and said (with that characteristic Indian head bobble) “I come from right here in Jodhpur, Ma’am”.
But I wasn’t satisfied and wanted to dig further. I asked her if she had ever been to England – no she hadn’t. Perhaps she had an English teacher at school. She had never been to school (broke my heart). Eventually I asked her who had taught her to speak English as I thought this would give me a clue.
“Why, Ma’am,” she answered laughing “I learnt as a small child from speaking to the tourists”. Well I never. Bright as a button and never a day’s schooling. What a shame.
I happily handed over a bunch of rupees and in return received 10 bead necklaces and then 2 extra because I was “so kind”. I still wear them today and often think of this merry little girl and hope she is able to make a future for herself. She deserves it.
Tipping – how much is too much and how much is too little. Is a tip expected? In countries like Australia and New Zealand hardly anyone tips – it is just not expected. Same thing in the Cook Islands. So what’s a poor traveller to do and how much should you tip if at all?
According to the website http://www.thisismoney.co.uk a survey of British travellers showed that 70% of them didn’t research tipping customs for the destinations they were visiting. This leads to over-tipping – which I guess is not a bad thing from the recipient’s point of view. My philosophy has always been rather over-tip than under-tip.
The whole tipping thing though does sometimes get out of hand and a good example of this is the cruise line industry.
“There are exceptions, but most mainstream cruise lines pay the men and women who serve their passengers a low base wage (by Western standards). As such, on nearly all big-ship lines, crew members are dependent upon the generosity of travellers for a good portion of their income.” (except from Cruise Critic website).
Now that’s a shame. But it is also frustrating for guests on these cruises. For a whole week you have your waiter and bus boy all over you – BFF’s – and then on the last farewell dinner you give them The Envelope! Next morning at breakfast it’s every man for himself as waiters are getting ready for the next wave of cruisers. And I understand why they act like that – it is survival.
That’s why it is always surprising and charming when you try to tip someone and they refuse to take it saying that it is their pleasure to assist. True story – happened to me on a Uniworld River Cruise. Now they did tell us beforehand that tips are included but this girl had gone out of the way and I just wanted to show my appreciation. As a traveller there is something really good about being on a trip where you are not taking advantage of other people and that everyone receives a living wage.
I have to admit -I am not very good at this whole tipping thing – probably because my dear husband takes care of all that side of things but I can be a bit of a dope sometimes. In India last year we were at a fabric warehouse and had watched a demonstration of weaving just in the courtyard. As everyone was choosing fabrics and shirts I needed the ladies and as this was a pretty smart facility I figured I should take advantage – after all in India you never know! As I passed through the courtyard the weaving man was still there sitting in front of the loom.
So with a waggle of his head in true Indian fashion he signals me to come over and sit next to me. Oh that’s sweet I think. He starts showing me how to weave the wool and I did a couple of lines (or whatever you would call them). I gave him and nice smile and said thank you and then of course he signalled that you wanted some money. At the same time he put his finger to his lips to indicate that it would be a secret because clearly he wasn’t allowed to do that. So of course I gave him some money – I was so embarrassed at being caught in this old trick that I didn’t even check how much. So much for me – the seasoned traveller! On the plus side however I hope it made his day and he could go home that night to his modest little hut and show his wife – “Hey look what I got from this stupid English lady today!” and his wife will clap her hands and jump up and down and tell him what a smart and clever husband she has. Wish I could have been a fly on the wall!
I am sure everyone who has travelled has encountered this situation. You are out touring, maybe in a third world place, and you are met with big eyes and outstretched hands – usually a child’s. It’s hard to say no to this but you should.
When I travelled to Vietnam and Cambodia our guide was extremely strict about not giving money or even candy to the kids who surrounded us at every stop. She got very cross with one of our group who handed out one dollar bills and she said that this encouraged children to stay away from school and instead turn to begging on the streets. Even worse than that was the fact that mothers with too little money and too many children might turn out the prettiest or the cutest onto the streets to beg. It is one of the saddest parts of being a traveller. You still have to smile at the ingenuity of these kids. Stepping off a small boat somewhere in the Mekong Delta we were greeted by a small crowd of kids from one of the remote villages.
“Hello – how are you? Hello Canada? Very nice country!”
I found similar situations in India and there too our guide in Mumbai spoke sternly to the young women and children hanging around the tour buses. As a busy guide in this huge city she knew many of them by sight. I was surprised when she told me that not all of these people were homeless and that begging can be a profitable “job”. She also was very upset at the practice of tourists bringing big bags of candies and handing these out left right and centre. I could understand this concern. Suddenly a kindly tourist is surrounded by a horde of excited children. Eventually the candy runs out and yes – there are going to be some disappointed kids there – usually the smallest and the youngest.
So what to do if you want to share the wealth.
The first thing is to check the tour company you are booking with. Many of them have initiatives where a donation for every booking goes to a registered charity in your country of destination. For example when I did my tour with Insight Vacations to India there is an automatic donation of $5 per passenger included in your total trip paid to the Indian Children’s Charity. Now $5 may not sound like much but let me tell you – it buys a lot in India. We could not believe that a short cab ride we took in Mumbai cost the equivalent of a dollar.
Secondly check that your tour company uses as many local guides as possible. I read somewhere about a tour company that boasts about having North American guides so as to identify more easily with the guests. What? Why would you want a North American guide on your tour to India for example? We learned so much from our lovely guide in Mumbai. If you really want to experience a country let its own people show you around. G.Adventures is another company that does this very well and also supports many local endeavours to support small business in the countries in which they operate.
Finally check the charities supporting the country you are visiting and make a donation there, find out if there is a school visit planned so that you can take books and pencils but find out first what they need most and lastly tip generously. It doesn’t add up to much in Canadian dollars but in Rupees, or Vietnamese Dong or Cambodian Riel or Thai Bhat….
Well …. you do the math!
As I sit here on the last Day of my Insight Vacations tour in the lobby of the beautiful Taj Palace Lake hotel I just cannot quite believe what I have seen and experienced over the last ten days or so. I had read lots about the culture shock, the traffic, the poverty…..and yes it was all there present and correct. I had prepared myself for India with antibiotics, Imodium, Hand sanitizer, Disinfectant wipes…You name it I had it. Now I consider myself to be a fairly experienced traveller and I have been to some exotic places in the world but the more I read about India the more I prepared myself for horrible toilets and piles of garbage everywhere. What I was not prepared for were the people. Indians are great tourists in their own country and as North Americans we were definitely in the minority at many of the forts, palaces and temples. We were greeted with smiles and nods….almost a feeling of “we love our country and we are glad you love it too. Welcome.”
There are so many good reasons to visit India. The culture and the history is fascinating. Let’s not forget about the food. Oh my goodness the food is incredible. Under the guidance of our Insight Vacations tour leader Viren we were able to enjoy street food at several places we visited. As a first timer to India I don’t think I would have ventured to do this on my own.
And what adventures with the traffic. We were to,d by our guide that to navigate the city streets in India you need three things….a good horn good brakes and good luck. Fortunately the traffic moves very slowly in the cities with tons of motorbikes carrying whole families. I even saw one teenage girl on the back of a scooter driven by her mother with her younger sister wedged in between and she was doing her homework! Then I remembered how many times I used to do my homework on the bus to school in England. Maybe that was why I failed geometry And the shopping…..the shopping. Irresistible. Bartering is essential…something which I p ersonally hate to do. My one short lived success Was the purchase of a highly decorated woven bag. He asked for 1800 rupees ….I countered with an offer for 500. He asked for 750 and I held firm. Yay…I got my bag for 500 only to be offered two for 500 from another vendor. Ah well…everyone has to make a buck.
next stop Mumbai……stay tuned
Don’t you hate packing for a trip. That is my worst! I can spend hours, days and weeks researching what to see and the best way to get there. After all I do that so often for clients that it is second nature to me now when I plan my own trip. So all the tickets are here – check. Hotel vouchers – check. Travel insurance – you bethcha. Now I have to pack. Nooooo. Hate it. What to take and what to leave.
Ok – so let’s be rational about this. Just start off by laying everything out on the bed that you think you might need and then you can go through a process of elimination – right? Easy?
So let’s consider the destination. Now my next big trip is to India so that will present some packing problems. I start in Delhi and I am told that I should pack light comfortable clothing that is modest, covering arms and legs. I wish I could say I would look as cool as Judy Dench
But somehow I don’t think that is going to happen. I also don’t think I will get there and have a sari made. That somehow jars. Makes me think about my days in Swaziland when Peace Corps volunteers would arrive and get so carried away with the local culture that they would dress up in Swazi tribal wear which looks good on a Swazi but not really so much on someone from Ohio or wherever.
The big problem is the “What if’s”. What if we end up going to a really lovely restaurant – shouldn’t I take some heels. What if it is really cold when we go to the tiger reserve – should I take my down jacket. What if it’s too hot. What if it’s too cold. I am driving myself crazy here. So I thought I would do some research online as to the best packing practices. BIG MISTAKE. Oh my god. People actually take photos of their luggage contents in case they lose something. Believe it or not I found an essential packing list and this was one of the items together with a million other things. By the time I get all of this in my bag I will be charged for overweight luggage.
I can do this however – I did a 2 week trip through Ireland once just with my carry-on bag. It was really easy – I took black lulu-lemon with a couple of tshirts and basically wore the same stuff every day and when I got home I burnt everything in a sacrificial fire. (Just kidding).