In April of 1982, I traveled outside of the United States for the first time. My French teacher, her husband, my guidance counselor, two bus drivers, myself, and twenty-eight of my classmates spent four days in the city of Quebec.
It was an amazing experience. We did some of the things tourists typically do, but Mrs. Freeh advised us to do more. She told us to try to get a feeling for what living there was like. Do what the people do, eat where they eat, go where they go, she told us.
Thirty-three and a half years later, it's still one of the best piece of advice I've ever gotten. Because whenever I travel, I do just that. Oh, sure, I've done things like go to to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. But a good 80 to 90% of the things I do on vacation is in line with that advice.
Which brings me to the story I want to tell.
I was rooming with my friend Mike and the afternoon of the third day, we found ourselves with no plans. Mike then did a very smart thing. He went down to the lobby and asked the hotel concierge for suggestions. As it turned out, we were just a short walk from a monastery that was founded in 1639.
This, we just had to see. We arrived and discovered that a tour was to begin in about ten minutes, so we sat down and waited. The tour was very nice, as the nun leading it was very nice. There were six people on the tour. Myself, Mike, and two married couples who were there together.
Mike and I, two kids from upstate New York, were perfectly behaved. The four adults, who were all about the age I am now, were loud. They were rude. They were bad tourists.
When the tour ended, we were leaving when the nun who had led the tour approached us and asked us if we had about an hour to spare. We answered that yes, we did.
Now, as I write this, I'm getting chills just thinking about it. We were taken to an area that was not open to the public. We met the wonderful woman who was in charge of the monastery and had been for a very long time. She told us that she had seen us on the tour and was impressed by our behavior.
For not one, not two, but three hours, she told us her entire life story. She had grown up in a small town near the city, one we had seen as part of a bus tour (the tour was provided to us for free by the gentleman who owned the hotel we were staying in, such a lovely thing for him to do).
She had come to the monastery for her education in 1930 and was still there fifty-two years later.
Our conversation was conducted in both French and English, switching back and forth as needed. Mike and I spoke good French but were by no means fluent in it. She was fluent in both languages.
The tour, as I saw it then and still do see it, was most definitely not a typical tourist experience. It was something we thought would be interesting to do, and I'm so glad we did it.
Take Mrs. Freeh's advice, folks. Do what the people do, eat where they eat, go where they go. Chances are, you will be glad you did.