by Marc Anderson

What a Trip to a Chinese Restaurant Can Teach (Us) About Life

Map painted on hands showing concept - the world in our hands

The fall semester came and went.  Peder our college-aged son returned from his semester abroad at Beijing University in China.  While eating dinner at a local Chinese restaurant back in the states, I listened to his exploits.  The Great Wall. Guangzhou and Shanghai.  Hong Kong, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. Rooming with two other foreign students from Belgium and Switzerland. I was so excited over how excited he was. He had gotten bit by the travel bug, big time.

I always thought there was more cultural shock upon returning home rather than going to another country.  I guess traveling makes you grow. You change. You learn. When you return, you seem to just not quite fit.  You miss things. You miss people. Peder thought so, too.

I’ve traveled, lived and worked in dozens of countries. I dabbled in languages. Yes, I saw uniqueness in other cultures. But I always thought that people were more alike than different. You often hear people say that. The renowned American author and poet Maya Angelou said that. She writes in her book The Complete Collected Poems We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.  Peder thought so, too.

Well, don’t we all want to be happy? Don’t we all seek knowledge?  Don’t we all look for wisdom to guide our lives? I guess that’s what proverbs are.  Such simple sayings. Common sense sayings. You know. The ones you wish you thought of.  The ones that express a practical side of being human.

So I made a list. A list of countries I visited. 30, I think. I scribbled them down on my napkin. It took a long time. I couldn’t help it. So many memories. And then I came up with a popular proverb from each country.  I think some of them may be similar in other countries.  But, nonetheless, I thought you might want to hear them. They might make you happy.  They might fill that void of knowledge. They might offer some type of wisdom for your life.  I guess that’s what proverbs are. Such simple sayings. Common sense sayings you know.

Austria – A light is still a light, even though the blind man can’t see it. The truth is still the truth even though you don’t admit it or recognize it.

Belgium – The beautiful is less what one sees than what one dreams. What you create and imagine is more important and valuable than what you know.

Canada – Walk a mile in my moccasins to learn where they pinch. Don’t judge others until you have experienced what they have been through.

Czech Republic – Better a lie which heals than a truth which wounds. Be careful what you say as words can be harmful.

Denmark – Better to ask twice, than to lose your way once. There are no “dumb” questions and certainly no worse than not asking at all.

England – Some men go through a forest and see no firewood. We often do not see all the possibilities in something that should be quite obvious.

France – Write injuries in sand and kindnesses in marble. Remember all of the good things in your life and not the disappointments.

Germany – Flatterers, like cats, lick and then scratch. Be careful of those who are not honest.

Greece – Men who have lost heart never yet won a trophy. If you have always given up, then you do not know what it feels like to persevere and meet your goals.

Ireland – A trout in the pot is better than a salmon in the sea. Sometimes it is better to accept what there is rather than always think there is something better.

Israel – If a word be worth one shekel, silence is worth two. Listening is more important than speaking.

Italy – To him that watches, everything is revealed. You can learn much by observing.

Jamaica – When you go to a donkey’s house, don’t talk about ears. Even though you know the obvious about something, it does not mean you need to tell everyone.

Japan – You can’t see the whole sky through a bamboo tube. To be broad-minded requires someone to experience all of life.

South Korea – Aim high in your career, but stay humble in your heart. Do not brag about what you are capable of; just continue on your path to fulfill your own desire.

Lebanon – Do today what you want to postpone tomorrow. Don’t procrastinate.

Luxembourg – A woman is as old as she wants to tell you she is. No woman wants to tell her age.

Mexico – It’s not enough to know how to ride – you must also know how to fall. You can tell a lot by the way someone handles the difficult times in life.

Netherlands – He who attempts too much, seldom succeeds. No one can do everything at once.

Norway – Luck is loaned, not owned. Be thankful if you are lucky, but remember luck does not last forever.

Philippines – A clear conscience is far more valuable than money. Being truthful is a higher value than monetary rewards

Poland – There are 1000 paths to every wrong. There are many obstacles in life’s path, but that should not deter you from following what is the right thing to do.

Portugal – Beware of a man that does not talk and a dog that does not bark. Be careful of those who don’t speak as you don’t know what they are thinking and where they stand.

Scotland – Be slow in choosing a friend, but slower in changing him. Friendships take time to develop and the best friendships are those in which you accept people for whom they are.

Spain – He who goes with wolves learns to howl. Be careful who you choose as friends as you become like them.

Sweden – Those who wish to sing, always find a song. If you think positively, then that is the type of person you will be and the type of life you will lead.

Switzerland -Speech is silver and silence golden. To be quiet is often more important than to talk much.

United States -The early bird gets the worm. Those that show initiative win out over those who move slowly or procrastinate.

Wales -Be good and then do it again. There is no end to being good and kind.

Yugoslavia – No one likes to be the first one to step on the ice! It is hard to try new things, to be a leader in a group, to be brave…but it the way to be true to your being.

And then we finished eating. The egg drop soup was delicious. We both loved the Kung Pao Chicken. Extra spicey. And the bowls of steamed rice and Laoganma hot sauce.  The waitress brought the bill.  We opened our fortune cookies and munched on the almond cookies over more oolong tea.

Now, it was Peder’s turn to add to the list of proverbs. He smiled as he read his fortune, “From China – The journey is the reward.”

I couldn’t agree more.  The journey is the reward. All of those travels.  All of those cultures and people. And everything you are able to do and see and learn. That is the gift of travel, the reward of the journey.

I guess I was more like my son than I thought. More alike than unlike.

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Listening to other people talk about their travels or hearing how studying a language has helped open a new awareness and appreciation of world cultures is very rewarding.  The time and effort you put into learning another language will offer much.  If you haven’t checked out TalktoCanada.com, you might want to look around.  With more confidence in speaking English, you’ll be able to take that foreign trip you have always wanted to go on, study in an English-speaking country, or try for that promotion or new job that requires the ability to be conversant in English. Please write and share your thoughts about this article.  Which proverb(s) do you especially like? Do you have others to add?  Have you experienced culture shock?  What have you learned from your travels? Do you agree that human beings are More alike than unlike?

This is Sue Peterson’s second blog post.  She enjoys listening to travel stories almost as much as traveling herself. She is a guest writer for TalkToCanada and a private ESL teacher in Wisconsin. Most of all, she relishes spending time with her husband Jae and her four children, all of whom have now gotten the travel bug.

About the author:

Marc Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of TalktoCanada. Since founding the company in 2006, he has grown it to over 25 staff with operations in 50 countries. Marc spends his time outside of TalktoCanada travelling, playing with his son and working on new business projects.

  • Great article! (Yes, the travel bug bit me years ago.) I’m with Sue, Peder and Maya on this one – we are more alike than unlike.

  • Great article! (Yes, the travel bug bit me years ago.) I’m with Sue, Peder and Maya on this one – we are more alike than unlike.