“Home away from Home” Survey Response by Ray Frew
|Hi, I’m:||Ray Frew|
|What is your city, state and country of residence?||Torrance, California, United States|
|How old were you during the intercultural travel experience you are sharing? How old are you now?||I was 66 and am now 69|
|Where was this intercultural/travel experience (geographically)?||Umbria, Italy|
|Was this your first time in this country &/or with individuals from this cultural background?||No. My wife and I had traveled to Italy 20-23 times, previously.|
|Describe the intercultural experience you wish to recall in detail:||Three years ago, we went to Italy the day after Christmas wishing to experience the holidays in the small medieval hillside town of Spello, in which we had recently purchased and renovated a small home. At a local wine enoteca, the proprietor introduced us to an Italian couple that had a second home there just a short distance from ours. After some glasses of wine together, they asked what we would be doing on Capodanno (New Year’s Eve). When we said that we had no specific plans other than that friends from the States would be coming to join us for a few days, they invited all four of us to their home and insisted that we accept.
We did, though there was some trepidation because our hosts did not speak English and only my wife spoke Italian. When we arrived, it turned out that our hosts had four Italian house guests for the holidays. Two of them, a man in his late 40s and a girl of ten, spoke adequate English. From the moment of our arrival, the four of us were treated as the guests of honor.
We had expected a party with drinks, food and music but discovered that, to Italians, Capodanno is an occasion for a sit-down feast, and what a feast it was! There were ten of us seated around a large square table enjoying a 7-course meal that would have been sufficient if there had been twice as many.
Within a very short time, we were all conversing in some manner and sharing laughter as we began to come to know each other, at least a little, through limited words, quite a lot of body language and a 10 year old’s translation services.
It was one of the most enjoyable family dinners I had had in years even though the four of us were strangers to the other six.
At midnight, our hostess called upon us to join her outside to light and launch luminaries to mark the hour. It had snowed lightly earlier in the day and the temperature was below freezing. Unfortunately, I was wearing leather soled dress shoes and took a header on the icy cobblestones. These new friends got a car and rushed me to the emergency room where I underwent tests and observation for the next five hours. The English speaking gentleman stayed at my side the entire time so he could help my wife talk to the doctors and help her understand what they said and diagnosed in return. Our hostess was in tears for days as she faulted herself for being the cause of my injuries. They all exceeded the call of duty in caring for me and exhibited such compassion and concern that an unrelated observer would find it difficult to believe our friendships were only a few hours old. The next day, all six of them came to visit me at my house and brought food to share there so that I could stay in the comfort of my home. As a result of a chance encounter in town and a not too severe head injury, we now have a tradition of alternating homes each year for the Capodanno feast and we have become very special friends and neighbors.
|How did you arrive in the location?||We flew from Los Angeles, California, to Rome, Italy, rented a car at the airport and drove to Spello, a 2+ hour drive.|
|Had long were you there and had you been there before?||Our first visit to Spello was the result of a day hike to the town from a mountainside agriturismo outside of Assisi. Sixteen years later when we were contemplating leasing a place for a year, we found, just by chance, a listing of an apartment in Spello and decided to give it a try. We renewed the annual lease each year for five years before purchasing a place of our own in 2014.|
|How did you feel different than those you were encountering? Describe in detail.||When we first arrived for extended stays (2 weeks to 1 month at a time) in Spello, Italy, we were referred to as tourists. The residents observed us but did not interact with us. The merchants and restaurant owners were only interested in our patronage. After a couple of years, the town’s businesses and residents began referring to us as the American tourists which was an upgrade in their opinions. It distinguished us from the generic tourists who came for a day or a short stay of a few days. By the end of five years, we were being called by our first names and were accepted as welcomed, regular visitors. The people of the town seemed flattered that we would keep coming back to their home town and started to be more engaging and acknowledging. Now, we are welcomed as friends and neighbors with some even referring to us as family. It has been a gratifying transition.|
|What was the biggest surprise, difference or shock between your pre-travel perceptions to your actual experiences?||We had always heard that Italians were warm and welcoming to most people and that is what we expected. We were seldom disappointed in that regard. But, we were blown away over how quick they are to welcome you into their homes and into their daily lives.|
|What was the best (most memorable) and the worst part(s) of this experience?||My favorite experience occurred a year ago when we returned after a several month absence. As we were unlocking our front door, a neighbor across the narrow street came out and called a welcome to us and said she was pleased to see us back. Another neighbor, an invalid, leaned out a second story window and kept repeating “Tanti auguri, tanti auguri” expressing that we were a gift of good luck to him for what we do to be neighborly when we are there. Shortly after, as I walked through our small piazza, our local policeman called me by name and wished me a good afternoon. I never felt more welcome as a friend and I was elated.
We have been blessed in that we have had no “worst” experiences other than it taking months to get telephone and wifi services.
|What was the most beneficial part of this experience for you (what did you learn)?||I have learned that one does not have to be a linguist to communicate effectively. Smiles, an open mind and heart and ‘talking with your hands’ are quite effective. I have learned from the Italians that there is no reason to ever be in such a hurry that you cannot take the time to cross the street to greet a friend. I have learned that new experiences, new places and new friends are among the true treasures we should be striving for.|
|What are the most important insights of your experience you feel are most critical to share and/or emphasize?||Adjust your attitude when you travel! You are not the one blessing people with your presence and patronage. Rather, you have the opportunity to be blessed by them in many ways. Your home and lifestyle are not superior to those that you visit or observe solely based on your measurements of such things. Take time to listen and learn before you disregard or undervalue the charms and traditions of other cultures and different places.|