When my husband's company sent him to Germany for the summer, the trip was a dream come true for me. But to our son, it represented a 10-year-old's worst nightmare. Nathan would have to cancel basketball camp and tennis lessons and leave his friends for the summer.
As I packed for our international journey, worry set in. I wondered how Nathan would handle the long flight and jet lag. My husband would be working during the week, so I would be Nathan's sole source of entertainment. How much touring could he tolerate? How many museums would induce history overload?
Then there was the language barrier. How would he handle cultural immersion, hearing hardly a speck of English? But perhaps my son's biggest challenge would be German cuisine.
Nathan is not an adventurous eater. In our house, a happy meal has less to do with golden arches than it does with serving the right brand of macaroni (Kraft) and pizza (Domino's).
Before leaving the US, I encouraged Nathan to keep an open mind about the different things we would be doing and seeing. "Different" did not connote bad or wrong, I told him, and it might mean fun and exciting. I repeated this message on our flight to Frankfurt, when the kid's meal I'd ordered never materialized. We revisited this subject the first night, when Nathan saw how Germans make pizza.
"What's different?" I asked as he picked the sausage and pineapple pieces off his portion.
But soon we got beyond that. Together we discovered all the wonderful differences in Germany.
We tasted ice cream that was creamier and pretzels that were soft and chewy. In supermarkets, we found milk that came in boxes and cereals that were all coated with sugar. We found impeccably clean restrooms when we toured, but almost no water fountains. (Germans seem to prefer bottled water.)
We watched construction workers without hard hats and glass blowers who worked in open-toed sandals. We noticed how many people commuted by bicycle, but how few of them wore helmets.
We toured castles and caves and marveled at farmland and cityscapes unblemished by bill-boards. We watched cartoons on television and laughed at Donald Duck's German accent.
One day I panicked as we entered an old walled city. I was driving the wrong way down a narrow, one-way cobblestone street.
From the back of the rental car, I heard my son's voice. "Ummm, Mom, what's different here?"
Instantly, my frustration dissolved to laughter.
On our last night in Germany, Nathan begged my husband and me to return to the restaurant where he had ordered his first pizza. Why? Because he had decided that Germans do make good pizza.
Nathan was not only a terrific touring companion, but a good ambassador as well.
On our trip I learned the best way to help my son embrace cultural differences was to get rid of preconceived notions that he would have trouble appreciating differences.
Lately, Nathan has been reading about mummies and pyramids. Can Egypt be in our future travel plans? My son has shown me that it can.