The dollar is at an all time low, which means almost every European I know is heading to the United States for summer holidays. For some, it will be their first visit and like many Americans who venture abroad, it will be the dream of a lifetime. My dentist is flying to Seattle, a French colleague is heading to Grand Canyon, and our Swiss educational psychologist is off to the Arrondikes.[cincopa AUBA_rqiwimE]
Be kind to the visitors. Smile. If you can, try to speak a few words of their language, even if only to say hello: Grüsse (German), Bonjour (French), Hola (Spanish), Buongiorno (Italian) or Kalimera (Greek). Ask simple questions about their homeland.
Even with the best intentions, misunderstandings are bound to occur. A German friend, studying in the US, once brushed her teeth with denture cream. Years ago a 6’7” French basketball player, walked out the men’s store changing room in downtown Chicago in his skivvies to find another size of jeans, and his teammate peed behind a bush in a public park. I was equally mortified when a well-endowed French teammate whipped off her top and perched on the bow of a speedboat.
If Europeans don’t ask a lot of personal questions, it does not mean they aren’t interested, only that they are respectful and fear invasion of privacy. Food and weather are safe topics; work and income are not. Sharing food is a special time of interaction. Mealtime is sacred.
Talk slowly. Use hand gestures. When people do not speak the language, they will pretend to understand even if they really don’t. I know this from my own experience of feigning knowledge to avoid appearing dimwitted.
I have dined on local specialties in European homes, sipped wine in private cellars and shared coffee in living rooms across the continent. Each time I learned far more about the culture and customs than guidebooks could ever divulge.
Greet my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances with a big grin as they travel from sea to shining sea. It takes so little, really, to make someone feel welcome…a smile, a handshake, a kind word. Not only is it good for business, it is also good for the soul.
Certainly the Europeans will be awed by our spacious landscapes, daunted by our city skyscrapers, and enamored with our natural beauty found in our Badlands, Grand Canyon and other National Parks. But what I hope they will remember mos,t is the warm, embracing spirit of the American people.