Students and faculty alike are looking forward to the upcoming spring break and many are contemplating a vacation outside of Alaska. For those of you who are traveling to sunny regions in the Lower 48, I thought I might try to help you avoid some of the culture shock that I experienced my first time “Outside.”
Whereas Alaskans expect to find many interesting things, such as crumpled Olympia beer cans, rusted hub caps and old campaign posters lying around their yards when the snow melts, people in America's warmer climates have something called grass. It is usually a lush green color, smells lovely and feels soft on bare feet.
You might also notice a golden orb in the sky that shows itself more than four hours a day. Experienced travelers call this the sun. It warms the skin, which means that heavy coats are not needed to keep your body temperature from dropping at warp speed. The drawback for Alaskans is that our skin is sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays due to our lack of exposure to this incredible sphere. We usually turn fire-engine red in its presence.
Many of the sun-belt hotels have cement ponds on their property. People actually swim in them. And you don't need to worry about packing your survival suit. Unlike the frigid temperatures of Alaska's waters, these swimming holes are usually quite warm.
If you're off to a coast where there are sandy beaches, don't be alarmed by the miles of swimsuit-clad strangers, lounging along the shores, sipping drinks adorned with fruit and small umbrellas. They won't bother you if you don't bother them. For instance, try not to run screaming down the beach that the sea monsters are coming. The long, brown slimy things that wash up on the shore are usually kelp.
I've also got a few helpful hints for those of you who might be thinking of traveling to a foreign country over spring break. If you're off to Bulgaria, be sure to remember that nodding your head up and down means “no” and shaking your head back and forth means “yes.” If you don't remember this little fact, you might end up with a knuckle sandwich if a Bulgarian asks you if you like his country.
To say “no” in Turkey, however, you should raise your head slightly, tip it backward and then close your eyes. But make sure that if you have to say “no” to someone that the soles of your shoes aren't pointing at the person to whom you are addressing. You might not see the punch coming. The Turkish people consider the shoe the lowest part of the body and as something that is usually dirty. Shoe pointing is out.
To signal to someone in Greece that something is OK, don't use our normal sign of making a circle with the middle finger and the thumb. To a Greek, this is a gesture for a body orifice. Very offensive. Use the “thumbs up” sign, instead. If you forget and make the American sign, don't be fooled if the Greek smiles at you. They smile when they are upset or angry.
And if you're planning to spend your break in Scotland or Ireland, the most offensive gesture would be to refuse to buy a round of drinks in a pub when it's your turn to buy. Here's to looking up your kilt, Mac. Have a fun, safe spring break!