I Need A Photo Opportunity

by Nancy Bestor

One part of traveling in a foreign country that always surprises me is how fascinated locals seem to be with my family. The looks many give us make me feel like some of them have never seen a Caucasian tourist before. This happened quite frequently in parts of Bali this past summer, particularly to my 19 and 17-year-old daughters. You would think they’d be used to it though, because it’s been happening all their lives as we’ve taken them on travels around the world.

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It started in Thailand, when the girls were 7 and 5. Two Caucasian girls visiting somewhat remote islands in Thailand gave many people pause. They would stare, smile, wave, sometimes touch them, and frequently ask to have their pictures taken with them. Often times they’d offer the girls gum, candy, fruit, and more. It wasn’t just locals either. Tourists, particularly those from Japan, also wanted their pictures taken with Emily and Sarah.

People in Vietnam were very friendly to our girls as well. And it appeared to be even more unusual for a Caucasian family to be visiting this country. I’ll never forget being in a local outdoor market outside of Nha Trang where we were definitely the only tourists, and it felt like the Vietnamese could not take their eyes off of us. I swear a woman started following us there too, but that is another story. Locals stared in Turkey as well. The only ones brave enough to ask for a picture though, were a group of about seven girls, ranging in age from 8-16.

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Fast-forward 12 years to our trip this past summer to Bali. Locals and tourists are still staring at our girls, sometimes smiling and waving, and still asking for pictures with them. We met a family who insisted that their younger daughters (who they said were “grumpy today”) take a picture with our daughters. Emily was asked by a man to have his picture taken with her, and then he brought over the rest of his family to take a full on family portrait with her as well.

It’s not always just our girls though. A group of Japanese tourists in Bali were delighted when Bob and I passed by them on the beach, and they enthusiastically motioned him over for a photo opportunity. Bob is certain they had mistaken him for George Clooney.

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The folks we’ve met in these impromptu photo sessions over the years rarely speak much English, but they almost always ask us where we are from. Interestingly, when we answer “the United States”, they tend to look at us a bit blankly. We quickly learned that the best way to answer the “where are you from” question is to say “America.” Nine times out of ten, in whatever country we are visiting or whomever we are talking with, the locals reply with a big smile and an “Ohhhhh…….America!”

I’d like to think this is what Heidi Klum and her family feel like when they vacation. I’d like to think I look a little something like Heidi Klum too. No comments from the peanut gallery please.

Sell Me Something Good

by Nancy Bestor

Can you imagine working at a job where all day long people say no to you? I’ve never wanted to be a telemarketer or a door to door salesperson for that very reason. (And because I’m regularly annoyed by people doing those jobs, heaven forbid I’d work a job where people find me annoying.) I can’t help but feel a little sorry for people in those sales jobs though. So while some folks might just immediately interrupt a telemarketer and say “no thanks” then hang up the phone, I politely listen to most or all of their spiel, then I say “no thanks” and hang up the phone. Something tells me I’m not doing the telemarketer any favors by keeping them on the line when I have no intention of buying, but I am trying to be polite.

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Thus when I’m sitting on the beach in a foreign country, or eating in a restaurant, or even riding the bus, and I’m approached by a tout, it’s hard for me to immediately say no, even if I’m not remotely interested in what is being sold. So many tourists can quickly say “no thank you” before they’ve even been shown the wares available for purchase. I rarely want to buy, but it is so difficult for me to just say no right off the bat. I’ve learned however, that if I don’t say no immediately, the tout won’t leave me alone. He or she will sense my hesitation, and continue to offer me suggestions on what I should buy. This includes, but is not limited to, hair extensions, a beach massage, an “I got drunk in Puerto Vallarta” t-shirt, and many other gems. I’ve even been offered English language teaching tapes on a bus in Costa Rica. Replying no, in English, only slightly dissuaded the salesperson. I’ve not come home from Turkey with a rug however, so in the end I can usually make a clean break, but it would really be better for all parties if I could just say no in the first place.

On a recent trip to Bali, it was fun to listen to the salespeople offer me their “best price” as I passed by their store. On various occasions we were presented with a morning price, a good luck price, a raining price and an afternoon price. We were given the opportunity to “come and have a coconut at my house” from a man renting snorkeling equipment. We were introduced to the children of touts on the beach. We were asked—repeatedly—where we were staying and where we were from. We were asked our names. The list goes on and on. I started out thinking that the touts were so nice and so interested in us, but quickly realized it was just a way for them to get more sales.

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I remember visiting the Grand Bazaar in Turkey. Walking down the aisles with booths on either side was like running the gauntlet. Salespeople would holler out at us to come and try their tea or spices or shop in their booth or ask where we were from. It got to the point that I couldn’t reply to their remarks, nor could I even make eye contact, because that was, in their eyes, a sign that I was interested. And if I wanted to take a closer look at something, I felt like it was almost a foregone conclusion that I was going to buy it.

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Last week a young woman knocked on my front door here in Ashland. When I answered she started her carpet cleaning sales spiel by asking if I was “the lady of the house.” I politely said yes, although I was on guard. Next she asked if I was “the queen of my castle.” Indeed I am, but that’s all it took. This time I immediately pulled up the drawbridge.

What’s Behind Door Number One?

by Nancy Bestor

There are a lot of ways to attempt to live like a local when traveling abroad. You can rent an apartment and shop for groceries at local markets. You can hang your laundry out to dry on a line strung across a small balcony. You can take public transportation, and walk neighborhoods outside of the main touristy drags. But what you can’t see is how the locals really live. I was reminded of this when looking at the photos Bob took from our travels in Italy last summer, when he focused our camera on door after door, down quiet neighborhood streets in Verona, Venice and the Cinque Terra.

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What are the people doing behind those doors? What are they serving for dinner? Do their young kids watch television in the afternoon when their mothers can’t take just one more minute of them running around the house? (Actually, I may be channeling my earlier days of parenting here.) Are they whipping up a delicious homemade pasta dish with fresh crab for dinner? Do they sit in their backyards or on their back terraces and drink a glass of prosecco in the late afternoon while listening to an Italian opera on the radio?

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Those beautiful and intriguing doors, letterboxes and doorknockers make me imagine all sorts of happenings going on behind them. Surely their lives are far more cultured than mine. Maybe it’s best that I don’t see behind them, and instead leave their stories to my imagination. I’m certain no Italian mother has ever served her children tater tots and frozen peas. (In my defense I was really busy that day, and my kids actually like tater tots and frozen peas.)