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When traveling abroad, I prepare to look stupid
Seth and Tiffany Lewis at a world heritage viewpoint in Hallstatt, Austria. - photo by Tiffany Gee Lewis
Every time I travel abroad, I prepare myself for the inevitable:

I will undoubtedly make a fool of myself.

I was in Prague last week, trying to buy some lunch at the train station before our train departed for Vienna.

I had exactly seven minutes before that train pulled away.

I was going to purchase a salad and a banana. The cashier rang up the salad, then pointed to the scale across the store and told me, in Czech, that I needed to weigh the banana first.

I checked my watch. Six minutes.

Never mind, I said, setting aside the banana and using hand motions. I dont want the banana. Ill just have the salad.

The cashier would have none of it. She refused to ring me up until I walked over and weighed the piece of fruit.

The instructions on the digital scale were, of course, in Czech, and besides, I really didnt care about the banana. So I left it by the scale and walked the half mile back to the cash register.

I dont want the banana, I said again.

The cashier climbed off her stool, marched over to the scale and weighed the banana.

Meanwhile, the checkout line had grown so long it wrapped past the freezer case and on toward the bakery aisle. I was too mortified to look anyone in the eye, but Im sure they were cursing me in Czech, which is really the only time not knowing the local language comes in handy.

I glanced at my watch. Three minutes until my train pulled away.

The cashier returned, carrying the properly weighed and tagged banana like it was the Hope Diamond. She rang it up, I paid, and then I bolted out the door to the platform, brandishing that precious $2 banana over my head and feeling quite sheepish.

And I reminded myself, as I hopped on that train Butch Cassidy-style, This is why I travel. To be deeply humbled. To step out of my comfort zone and do things that make me a little afraid and a little vulnerable.

International travel reminds me that America does not hold a monopoly on living right. There are multiple ways to eat a pastry, worship, raise a family and educate a nation. Two different sides of the road to drive on, neither of which is wrong or right.

And if we keep our eyes open to the unfamiliar, and sometimes uncomfortable, we allow ourselves to learn.

For instance, I love how the Viennese take every chance to sit at a coffee shop and chat with a friend. And how they sit outside the opera house on a Thursday evening, watching Don Carlo broadcast on an enormous movie screen. And how, when they are 16, they take classes to learn the Viennese waltz. I love that Austrian Catholics mark the day of Epiphany in white chalk above their door, where it stays throughout the entire year as a reminder of the wise mens arrival to visit the Christ child.

Just like Ive fallen in love with Icelands public pools, and Norways mealtime toasts, I take pieces of each culture back with me. It informs my worldview.

So when politicians or pundits say that we need to seal our borders and build walls, when they try to instill fear of certain faiths and practices, when they turn nation building into us verses them, I think, No. We all just need to travel more.

And buy lots of bananas.