Sitting in the passenger seat of our rental car in Italy, I was thankful that Douglas was driving, because the boldness of Italian drivers will being you closer to God. You are praying the whole time not to be hit or not to hit someone. It seemed that we were always caught in the middle of a car chase, as people raced past us at dizzying speeds.
I told Douglas that I thought “these” people must be taught from birth to be as aggressive as possible. In the space of twenty-four hours, I decided that Italian drivers were “the worst.”
It is ludicrous, I know, to form opinions so quickly, but somehow when we travel, we tend to suspend logic and go with prejudices and biases that have no basis in facts. Our prejudices derive from the fact that we can see the shortcomings of others much more than we can see our own.
We were strolling back to our abode one evening, having walked over four miles along the seaside. A truck parked on the sidewalk in front of us, forcing us to walk in the bicycle lane. As bicyclists came upon us, they started yelling in Italian.
Some pointed to the sidewalk, others made some gestures that I am sure their grandmothers would not have approved of them doing. I started yelling back, “How rude you people are! Don’t you see the truck? We have nowhere to go!”
As they sped by, they were just amorphous shapes. Yet, I became convinced that Italians weren’t nice people, despite men and women who smiled at us and said, buon giorno, or the nice man who saw that we were lost in Pescara and stopped to help us, even though he could not speak English or us Italian.
After we arrived to our rental apartment, I realized that we had endangered the bicyclists, as people going both ways had to dodge us and each other, trying to prevent a bad spill. They were justified in their attempt to get us back where we belonged. I am betting that as I shouted back at them, they probably thought that Americans are the rudest people to visit Italy. I had to laugh!
Another aspect of my biases was my attitudes toward the African immigrants I encountered in Italy. When I attempted to connect with them, they looked at me as if I were some kind of strange object, which hurt me deeply. I assumed that they were all immigrants encountering racism, and, therefore, needed my sympathy and fellowhip.
But, they seemed uncomfortable that I was walking with and holding hands with a white male. I assumed my dark skin meant that we were brothers and sisters in the flesh, all part of the African diaspora and such. Douglas told me that he thought that they looked at him in amazement that he was with a black woman!
So, I was discombobulated by the reception of the Africans. Yet, I have been in conversations with Africans who feel that American blacks are not fully African, and certainly should not be referred to as African-Americans.
So maybe my preformed prejudices against Africans made me feel their reticence to speak to me on a deeper level than needed. Also, we met many people in Italy who did not speak English, much more than in Portugal and Spain, so I should have considered that maybe the Africans just did not understand me.
Matthew 7:35 states, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
When traveling, if bad vibes or thoughts occur regarding the ways, actions, or deeds of people from other nations, remember that we all have our faults. I have been told more than once in my travels that Americans are “the worst,” and of how “different” I am from other Americans.
Let us practice cultural relativism, not judging people by our cultural expectations, but enjoying the sights, sounds, and beauty, including the people, that we encounter. Suspend your prejudices and start a conversation, as much as people will let you, and you will see that we have a shared humanity, all of us everywhere trying to paddle against the current of everyday life, endeavoring to live our best life.