One reason to travel is to discover how things are done all over again. My husband, Peter, and I are in Mexico, and I was thinking this as we stood, confounded, in front of the washing machine.
It would not start. There was a dizzying array of buttons and commands. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I actually understood what almost all the buttons meant. Unfortunately, my Spanish skills were of no use whatsoever in making the machine start.
“We need to put soap in it,” Peter advised.
“I don’t think we want to put soap in it until we know we can get water in,” I replied.
We continued to poke buttons and stare at the machine, completely flummoxed.
The good news was that Alma, a cheerful housekeeper, would be by in three days. We would only have to wear dirty clothes over the weekend and then Alma would come to save us. Peter and I stared at the machine for a few more minutes, pushed a few more buttons, then declared defeat. I decided I could air out a shirt for tomorrow. I don’t know what Peter decided to wear.
Of course, something like this happens to us at least three times a day when traveling.
Two days ago, we found a wonderful bakery. There were shelves of pastries and rolls and a few assorted baked goods displayed on the counter. I started telling the woman who worked there which of the rolls and pastries I would like and she began putting them in a bag.
“Oh, but I don’t want all those!” I tried to tell her in Spanish. Under pressure, it’s a lot harder to come up with the right words to refuse an excessive number of pastries. She gave me a look that I could not quite identify and kept piling all the pastries displayed on the counter into the bag.
Finally, she finished filling the bag and handed it to a woman standing behind me—who I had not even noticed in my eagerness to buy pastries. They were her pastries. The bakery woman handed me a tray (it looked like, and I’m pretty sure it was, a pizza pan) and pointed to the shelves loaded with baked goods, with sets of tongs conveniently located at the bottom of every shelf.
After I apologized to the bakery woman (who clearly thought I was an idiot) and the woman with the bag of pastries (who had good reason to feel the same), Peter and I began to select a few rolls and pastries—but nowhere near as many as we thought we would have to buy a moment earlier.
Late that night, I started giggling in bed. “That woman thought the gringos were going to make off with her pastries!” I said to Peter. He started chuckling.
“There’s a whole lot of ways of doing things we know nothing about,” he noted. Peter is right.
And that is a big reason why we like to travel as we do, living amongst people who live here all the time, embarrassing ourselves regularly while we encounter new ways—and often better ways—of doing things we do all the time without thinking.
Alma sorted out the washing in no time flat. Three buttons were all that were required to get it started. I have no idea why there were so many. They were put there to be ignored, apparently. Peter and I now have clean clothes and a nice supply of fresh bread.
It feels like a major accomplishment because, actually, it is.
Till next time,
Carrie Carrie Classon’s memoir is called “Blue Yarn.” Learn more at CarrieClasson.com.