Children serve as natural goodwill ambassadors abroad

``My, but you folks are brave. Just imagine taking your two boys to Europe with you.'' Her lips said we were brave. Her expression indicated we were downright foolish. Or worse.

We never thought of ourselves as either brave or foolish. It simply had not entered our minds to do otherwise than take the boys with us. Once done, the rewards of traveling with children in Europe were beyond compare.

Children are natural ambassadors of goodwill. Their smiles and their ready acceptance of things new open doors normally closed to adults traveling abroad.

Forget about the special closeness that travel brings to parents and children. Ignore the parent-child relationships that blossomed anew during our six weeks in the British Isles. Consider only that children break down barriers between cultures. They make instant friendships on an hourly basis. Before you know it, children have totally adjusted to their new surroundings and are ready to aid their parents in making the transition.

This first came home to us on a crowded street in London. Our search for a warm sweater for our older son had been without success. London stores just didn't seem to have what we needed.

``Let's ask a bobby,'' Sean, our younger son, suggested.

Before we could explain to him the reasons for not asking such a question of London's finest, the five-year-old had a bobby cornered.

Not only did we receive detailed directions to just the store we needed, but our benefactor suggested several places of special interest near at hand. His final gesture was to present Sean with a souvenir of London.

``Nice guy,'' said Sean as he led us off in the direction of the store.

Later, the boys joined forces to win over a waitress at an Italian eatery in London's Soho. This was at a time when soft drinks came in six-ounce glasses at a cost the British termed ``dear.''

The third evening we appeared, the boys and their newfound friend were thick as thieves. Our glasses seemed never empty. As if by magic they filled themselves unlimited times. And strangely, the refills never appeared on the bill.

Our final night the boys wished their good friend a fond farewell. As we left the table she scooped our rather substantial tip from the dish and divided it between the two boys. All of us were richer for our relationship with this wonderful person.

We crossed the Channel on what had to be the worst day of the summer. Our one-day look at France was gloomy and chill. For lunch we chose a crowded restaurant where we were the only English-speaking patrons.

Ordering was based on pointing and the hope that my high school French would not result in a plate of raw eels. Again the boys came to our rescue. Sean had been carrying on a silent conversation with a gentleman who turned out to be the owner. The boys were served portions too huge to be believed. Wonder of wonders, we discovered not only the owner but the waiter as well spoke limited English. It was the most fantastic meal we ate during six weeks of travel. And all because our young boys had the gift of instant friendship.

Everywhere the boys opened doors and hearts that would have otherwise remained sealed. Without them we were but another pair of Americans abroad.

One time the boys demanded we stop to aid a motorist at the side of the road. She was out of petrol. It took us but 15 minutes to locate a station and get her going. Regretfully we had to turn down her invitation for high tea.

Naturally the boys made friends with our London hotelkeeper and his wife. It was after our final evening with them that ``the Mrs.'' said it best. ``Come see us anytime,'' she said to our sons. ``You are always welcome.'' Then with her eyes alight, she added, ``If you like, you may bring your parents as well.''

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