I dislike feeling at home when I’m abroad, George Bernard Shaw
These words of George Bernard Shaw are in the opening scene of Widowers’ Houses, his first play to be staged in 1892. This opening scene is set in Remagen on the Rhine in Germany where Harry Trench and his friend William Cokane are travelling. William Cokane meets a Gentleman who does not share Cokane’s excitement at hearing English spoken while in Germany.
THE GENTLEMAN [to Cokane] We are fellow travellers, I believe, sir.
COKANE. Fellow travellers and fellow countrymen. Ah, we rarely feel the charm of our own tongue until it reaches our ears under a foreign sky. You have no doubt noticed that?
THE GENTLEMAN [a little puzzled] Hm ! From a romantic point of view, possibly, very possibly. As a matter of fact, the sound of English makes me feel at home; and I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad. It is not precisely what one goes to the expense for.
Many travellers will relate to this, none of us want to waste the expense of going abroad and then feel like we are in the UK. I do want places to feel different to home and in some way foreign; either the food, the language, the culture or the architecture should be shouting out to tell me I am somewhere other than home.
That said, on a campsite in another country hearing English spoken can be lovely. Much as I love talking to my partner, after a few weeks away it can be exciting to talk to someone else in ‘our own tongue’ rather than struggling in the local language where I have only limited small talk and mostly rely on gestures and a handful of words. Other travellers are a mine of information; they often give recommendations for good campsites or places to visit and they might have a top camping tip or know about roads to avoid or have entertaining travellers tales.
When we travelled around southern Europe for a year in our former campervan in 2009 / 2010 I was certainly very pleased to meet fellow English travellers as this sometimes meant I would find books to swap. We had nowhere near enough room in our VW to carry all the books I could read in 12 months and I relied on campsite book swaps and other campers to get new reading material. If there was someone from the UK around I would take the pile of books I had read round to them and ask nicely if they had anything to swap. This approach revealed some gems and was a great opener for making new friends.