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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to…

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to…

Several years ago I hit a one of those big life milestones…you know, the kind where you add a zero to your chronological age. Yes, I’m a bit vain so you’re not getting any more details than that. 😉

Anyway, to mark the passage into a new phase of my life, I resolved to walk part of the Camino de Santiago, the centuries-old network of pilgrimage routes that extends across Europe and ends in the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

Kitted out with backpack, walking stick, and a brand new pair of hiking boots, I chose the most well-known route, the Camino Frances, which begins in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, and crosses through several Spanish provinces. 

One evening about two weeks into my walk, I was chatting by phone with a friend in the U.S. when she asked if I’d done any early morning walks.

“No, why?” I asked.

“Oh, I just imagine it must be so spiritual, to be walking out under the stars, being out in nature in the pre-dawn,” she said.

Truth be told, it had never even occurred to me to walk in the dark. Rising early in the wee hours of the morning is customary on the Camino. But that’s more out of necessity and expediency. As anyone who’s walked the Camino in the high season knows, the early bird has a much better chance of snagging a cot in the albuergues, the dormitory-style accommodations that dot the Camino. Sleep in and you may end your day with sore feet, heat exhaustion, and no place to sleep. 

So, yes, waking up early was already part of my Camino routine. And, yet, venturing forth before daybreak intrigued me. What would that be like?, I wondered. Might I discover something else on the Camino that was invisible in the daylight?

So that night I resolved to rise before dawn so I could experience the Camino while the rest of the pilgrims slept on. 

To help orient pilgrims, and direct them toward Santiago de Compostela, there are waymarkers along Camino. The scallop shell is the most iconic symbol and waymarker. Typically painted in yellow and blue, the scallop shell appears on crumbling walls, the sides of buildings, and often literally under your feet on the path. In some provinces, the scallop shell is accompanied by a yellow arrow pointing the way east to Galicia.

Having spent several weeks on the Camino, I was pretty adept at spotting the waymarkers. After ten minutes I had left the city and my cozy cot behind. The world was eerily silent; even the birds had not yet awoken. I was feeling proud of myself (okay, maybe a bit unsettled by the total silence) and rehearsing what I’d tell my friend about my bravery. I strained my ears for the sound of nocturnal creatures and heard nothing. I gazed up at the sky, ready to marvel at the constellations, but the clouds obscured all.

Feeling a bit deflated, I entered a tiny village and made my way to small plaza with several paths and streets radiating in several directions. Peering around in the dim, actually, nearing non-existent light I couldn’t find a scallop shell or an arrow. I stumbled around a bit, shining my headlamp around corners, down alleys, and scanning the roundabout. And still, no waymarker.

After stumbling around in the dark for a bit, the voices in my head started panicking. “What kind of a dumb idea was this? How stupid to be out walking alone?! I mean, what did I really expect to find out here, anway?”

Then, another voice, one that many pilgrims hear, whispered in my subconscious, “Remember. The way is always there. Just pay attention.”

That was when I turned and saw it – smack dab in the center of the roundabout, a mere three feet away, stood an enormous statue of Saint James. Staff in one hand and a scallop shell danging from his waist, the statue’s free hand was raised and pointing.

I was so surprised, I burst out laughing.

What a wonderful timely lesson. No, I didn’t experience the awakening I’d gone looking for that morning. I had been too busy orchestrating my own adventure and trying to will some grand discovery that would serve as pilgrim bragging rights.

I nearly missed the very magic of the moment.

Fortunately, and of course, the waymarker and the message been there all along.

They always are, aren’t they?

Want support with your own personal wayfinding? Click here to learn about my “North Star” and “Pilgrimage” coaching packages.

What’s it like over there in Turkey?

What’s it like over there in Turkey?

People ask me that question a lot.

They ask when they find out that my husband is Turkish. Or when I talk about spending the summer with our kids in Turkey. Or when I mention that I’m going there for work.

Or when some Hollywood starlet says something like, “Oh, I thought Istanbul was a town.” (Yeah, I know, I winced too.)

And, you know what? I still don’t have a good answer.

Because, summing up Turkey, or any other country or culture, for that matter, is basically impossible.

It’s like asking a mom what labor’s like. (Okay, it’s not that extreme.)

Still, when you’re talking about a country as big, as diverse, and as old as Turkey, there aren’t any simple, succinct answers.

But that doesn’t stop people from having questions.

The Top 3 Questions I Get Asked about Turkey

Over the years I’ve field a lot of questions about traveling in Turkey. Here’s just a sample:

Do you wear a headscarf when you’re there?  

Nope. Sure, if I’m visiting a mosque, I’ll put on one out of respect. But, in my normal goings-about, I’ve never worn, or felt pressured, to don a headscarf. 

Is it safe?  

There’s something about Turkey that makes some people very nervous. And it’s not just Americans who get the willies. Back when I lived in Madrid and was heading out for my first trip to Turkey, a well-meaning Spanish friend tried to talk me out of going. “What if you’re kidnapped? Or tossed into a Turkish prison like that guy in that movie Midnight Express?”  Considering that I wasn’t a) a top model or b) a drug dealer, I wasn’t too worried. Twenty-years and two kids later, I’m even less so.  

Is it true you have to walk several paces behind your husband?

Heck, no! And I don’t see my Turkish female relatives plodding along behind their spouses either.

Curious about Turkey and want to learn more? Then consider joining me on a “Wander & Wonder Day Trip”. Contact me to learn about the custom walkabouts I offer in Istanbul and other locations in the U.S. and abroad. 


The # 1 Reason that Cultural Fluency Matters

Ever been to an aquarium?

It’s such a cool experience, watching the aquatic parade. 

The sharks glide by.

The sea anemones do their funky slow-mo dance.

Even the guy in the wetsuit fits right in — Okay, maybe not him.

But you know what I mean. The whole aquarium thing just, you know, works. 

What do fish have to do with culture?

Culture is like the water in an aquarium. And we humans are the fish.

As we paddle along, culture keeps us afloat. It’s the shared values and beliefs we live by, the rituals and traditions that say “this is how we do things here”, the taboos that tell us what behaviors are out of bounds.

For people born and raised in the U.S., culture is things like:

Just Do It © or “Been There, Done That” (values)

Always singing the “Star-spangled banner” before a ball game.  (traditions)

It’s rude to ask someone how much money they make. (etiquette and taboos)

For someone from Japan, culture might be expressed this way:

You always accept a business card with both hands and study it carefully. 

When you’re a guest in someone’s home, it’s rude not to eat all the food your host offers. 

Is either one of these cultures better than the other?

Nope. They’re just different ways of being in the world.

Are these differences ever cause for confusion?

You bet.

That’s because, like the fish in an aquarium, we’re all immersed in our own culture and that can make it hard to see, let alone, understand how the world might look to other fish, er, people who are from another culture. 

But, as long as you’re safe in your own cultural waters, life usually goes swimmingly.

Something Smells Fishy Around Here

But let’s say you have a change in life circumstances.

You decide to study abroad or you’re assigned to a global team at work.

Or maybe, like me, you fall in love with someone from another culture.

Now you’re in unfamiliar, maybe even murky, waters.

Out of the Fish Bowl and Into the Fire

Getting dumped out of your cultural fish bowl, whether by force or by choice, is shocking, to say the least.    

After all, you’ve got a whole new set of cultural behaviors and norms to sort out.

Which leads to lots of questions and maybe even some frustration.

Why can’t I get a straight answer from my Korean colleague? 

My Spanish girlfriend is never on time! 

This meeting with our Brazilian clients is really dragging on. What’s with all the chit-chat?! I mean, let’s get to the sales pitch, already! 

Ever felt this way? No worries, confusion, frustration and exhaustion are part of developing cultural awareness.

But, if you want to stay afloat — be happy in your new home overseas, get along with your colleagues or make your cross-cultural romance work —  you’re going to have to learn some new strokes. 

Three Tips for Staying Afloat in Cross-cultural Seas

  1. Resist the urge to succumb to stereotypes. Sure, it would be easier to just label the other culture as “lazy”, “crafty”, “just not like us” or any number of unflattering adjectives. But does that really make it easier to get along?
  2. Educate yourself about basic cultural differences. Read books. Ask questions. That way, you can anticipate where misunderstandings might arise and you can build on cultural traits that you and your new friend, colleague or soul mate might share.
  3. Remember to take off your own goggles. Pretend you’re an anthropologist and try seeing your own culture as someone from another culture might. 

Need support navigating your cross-cultural relationship? Could your team use some training in effectively communicating across cultures? I offer coaching and training for individual and groups. Schedule a consult with me and let’s explore how I can help.

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