I’m typing this in airports as I travel to Guadalajara today. I’ll be staying for four months with a host family I know nothing about, save their partial address and the name of the lady of the house. The last time I spent time abroad like this was just over five years ago, when I did my culinary school internship in Scotland. I lived and worked there for three months before traveling the Mediterranean for a month. For three months, everyone around me spoke English, and during the last month around half of the people I was around did… so this should be fun.
In order to prepare me for the trip, my home university held an orientation a week or two ago. We were given page after page of information – a guide to studying abroad in general as well as specifically in Mexico from my home university, maps of Guadalajara, and several packets from the university in Guadalajara. I always get a kick out of lingual-based humor – puns that only specifically work in a particular language, or jokes or riddles based upon wordplay, or when something is written in a language by a non-native speaker, the particular voice and idiosyncrasies that comes through… So the first thing I chuckled at in the packets from Mexico were particular phrases, like when they caution visitors to be extra careful when crossing the street because “cars do not mind pedestrians as much as they should.” Cute things like that. Then I got to the cultural differences.
First, greetings are explained – people do cheek-kissing in Mexico it says, and then we’re warned not to value strict punctuality too highly and “not get restless when you have to wait.” Dress, table manners, telephone use, etc, then shopping: “In Guadalajara it’s not only good but sensational!” Relaxed concept of time is brought up again, blah blah, and then we get to a paragraph that made me more than a little nervous. It was in all capital letters, and it said:
“WARNING FOR GIRLS.
The following does not mean to frighten you, only to make aware of this information since you are away from home. It’s always better to have more information than none at all. It’s better to exercise some common sense, and be responsible adults.”
Well no hard feelings there, I like to be informed and aware, and exercise common sense while traveling… but then it goes on:
“HAZARD LIGHTS FOR SEXUAL HARASSMENT
You may be independent and self-confident, but maybe you cannot read between the lines in a FOREIGN culture. The following may be consider leads:
· Provocative dress and dancing
· Accepting drinks from strangers
· Being out by yourself, or in an all-female group acting loud and cheap
· Engaging in discussions about topics like sex with new acquaintances you know nothing about
· Accepting casual invitations, solitary rides, or more night fun in high hours”
Okay now this does worry me. Who sets the standards on what the exact definition of “provocative” is? And I really have to turn down a free drink? What if the bartender him/herself hands it to me as opposed to the stranger? And no hen parties allowed? An “all-female group acting loud and cheap” sounds like a pretty specific description of some of the best times I’ve ever had in my life. Now I’m not one to start blathering on about how I prefer my intercourse with strangers, so that’s not a problem, but that last bulletin is the most vague of all.
Once, in Madrid, a passing boy grabbed my butt. He kept walking, I yelled things about his mother, that was over and done with. Once on an overnight train in Italy, a kind gentleman found me sleeping in the hallway and said I should come into a cabin where he and a couple of other travelers were passing out. They didn’t know him, so it didn’t seem like a setup, it seemed safe and I was tired. I went in and laid down… and he promptly started cuddling. I spent the rest of the night curled into the fetal position while he urged me to “lie down, get comfortable.” Sir, I said, I cannot be comfortable if I’m lying down right now. I don’t go walking down dark alleys by myself in foreign countries, I don’t climb into cars with random passers-by, I think I’m smart and cautious in general.
But then on the next page there are some more warnings, for example, “Girls do not go out to bars or discos alone; they go with friends, trying whenever possible to have a male companion who sees that each person gets home safely.”
Is it just me, or does this all read RAPE RAPE RAPE SUCKA YOU GONNA GET DONE UP THE BUM BY A GREASY CRIMINAL YEAAAAAAHHHHHHH.
So there’s that. On a lighter note, I got every single thing done that I needed to before I left. Cigar box banjo is made, finished, pegged and strung so I’ll have the ability to make music while there. Got a little carrying bag made too. Packed everything on the list I worked on for some time, and packed into only one checked bag and one carry-on. My house practically cleaned itself somehow magically, it’s the cleanest it’s ever been I think, and it all just happened almost effortlessly as I was getting errands done, last-minute supplies purchased, important calls made… things went so ridiculously, inexplicably well it’s feeling like the whole universe is conspiring to get me on this trip. Five years it’s been since I did something like this, and it was the single most formative experience of my life thus far… I’m feeling like this just might blow it out of the water. I’ll be back in four months, and God willing, with my hymen still intact.