Bill Tillman pauses to pose for a photo with his new friends during his visit Photo by Bill Tillman.
I understand some R&R Travel News® readers have wondered how I get into the situations I do and why I find it such an important part of my travels?
How can I do all of these things without having a fixed plan? How have we always succeeded in enjoying our trip so immensely? And what makes meeting people from different culture such a pleasure?
At many times, over the years, friends, relatives and other people has asked us why we travel. There is no way that I have discovered that I can answer that question simply and be understood.
I am going to make that attempt.
As far as I can determine all cultures are a result of what happened to their ancestors over the preceding centuries. In other words what parents taught their children, for generations. In America, most people came here as a result of some form of persecution. They wanted to truly start over. Even those that came here under the direction of the King of England became very aware of the advantage of distance to give them previously undreamed of freedom. The more rigid a cultures rules were the easier it is to forget them relax and you begin to become the person you want to be.
All of the above is significant only because it shows you that the strength for a culture’s longevity actually only endures where the culture has been born. Because America is a mixture of many cultures living and working together, it is, in many ways very accepting of all people but ironically not accepting of other cultures, as we actually do not have that history. This seems like a small distinction but it has a major consequence—we see ourselves as a new culture with a successful economy. We did create the greatest middle class system the world has ever known (approximately 1935–1975), without realizing that we had created a unique culture. I can only describe culture as an invisible cloak wrapped around your life. You can experience the fact that other cultures are different without realizing the depth of your own.
Photo by Bill Tillman on his trip to Africa.
Next, think of taking a picture of some fabulous scene that has virtually left you awestruck, but a picture you’ve taken at that moment will never convey that feeling to anyone that sees it. To me, that is the equivalent of my trying to explain what happens to me while on a trip to another country. You will have to decide if you are willing to talk to a stranger. Think about the times you have spoken to a stranger in a public place. Have you ever asked someone about an item they are buying, such as, “is that a good bargain?” or, “how well does it do the job?”. If so, you are a people person and you will have fun doing what the wife and I do. If you don’t think of yourself as a people person, try talking to people right where you live. If it works at home, it’ll work anywhere.
The best suggestion I have for you is to start reading faces, as this is very important, you can start by watching news programs, seminar programs or talk shows on TV. You can stare at all of these people without reservation!
1. The first thing you look at are their eyes, this is the biggest “tell” (that’s something a good poker player must not do—let his face reveal his feelings) you will soon be able to understand. a. He knows he is lying. b. Whether he’s lying or not, he believes what he is saying. c. He really does not have a good answer he is willing to say. Once you have a handle on this:
2. Watch the rest of his face.
3. Add the demeanor of his voice.
4. Move on to include his entire body language.
The above steps can be done in any order that suits you, but step # 1 is a must. Once this is done use it in all of your contacts. You will have some idea of the outcome before you approach them. On more than one occasion I have spoken to a person and immediately issued a one word apology and moved on—no harm done and they’ll just think it was a case of mistaken identity.
It’s easy to cover a mistake. In most instances, you have been studying the person, or groups of people for long enough to decide if they are approachable and the best opening line.
Some form of “I’m lost” or something you don’t understand—people generally love to help you, especially if they believe they know what you expect of them.
Its a channel-billed toucan! One of the many friends Bill Tillman has met in his world travels. Photo by Bill Tillman.
To start this journey you must have rules. These are mine—you can’t learn with your mouth open! Being open minded is a big challenge—don’t give up if you don’t succeed the first time you try. Another secret is, when listening, look directly at them and do not try to think of a response—only listen. It’s OK to pause before you respond and remember the best response is “thank you for telling me.” The more respect you show a person the more information he will give you. After having succeeded in doing this a few times it will be natural for you! You will also appreciate what is going on around you and that person will know someone cares.
If you’re successful, you will notice that you can read their expressions and know their level of sincerity and interest in the conversation you are having. If they show little or no interest find a polite way to end it. You’ll probably have better luck next time. You will get better at face and body language reading. Sometimes you will see someone expressing an interest in you because he knows you are not local and may even have a question he/she would like to ask. That’s your chance, take it.
To break the monotony of this article, here is an example. I know I am old—82—and one time while eating out with friends, I noticed a young lady was looking at me from time to time (I’m assuming I looked like someone she knew). The group she was with seemed to be enjoying themselves. As we were leaving I stopped and made the following comment, “Young lady, I noticed you were looking at me from time-to-time. Please DON’T tell what you were thinking” and I walked on. Everyone at the table burst out laughing. I had helped five people enjoy their evening just a little more! Nonsense is a good tool—sometimes.
To get back to business, accept what they say, you will know it comes from their heart and you’ve probably made a new friend. Acceptance is the key word. What you have done is ask them for information—what they tell will be the truth, at least, as they know it. It would be an unforgivable mistake to do anything other than accept it.
Don’t worry that you can’t come home and tell a friend the depth of your experience, just keep it in your heart and you are a better person for that experience—that’s what counts.
To mix with the people we always take public transit systems. Most cities have various multi-day transit system passes. Most countries have great and convenient transportation system.
Anyway, getting lost is also a good way to make new friends.
We also stay in private homes—many places when you arrive, people will be there to offer them. They will show you the room before you commit. They are always very clean and usually inexpensive. We also stay at mostly three-star hotels, sometimes even less. We find that they are far more customer friendly and helpful than the more expensive hotels.
We dress to conform with the economy, I some times refer to our dress code as “early K-Mart”.
A final point—by going places at the end of the season for that area, I do a lot of succe$$ful negotiating. If you do it with a smile, they will surprise you. In my case it’s usually the old person approach but use whatever fits the situation. It’s is fun and you and the person you are negotiating with will enjoy it.
In Indonesia you are almost considered rude if you don’t negotiate.
Have these experiences made me less American? No! It’s made me more American but changed my idea of what I want America to be. A country’s success should be measured by the depth of its moral consciousness. When you have that, everything else falls into place.
Bon Voyage! And remember, you can never have too many friends.
CWO-W3 William R Tillman, USAF, (Ret.) Vacaville, CA firstname.lastname@example.org