Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Monday, March 14, 2016

Avoiding Dehli Belly

I mentioned food poisoning in my last post, and I'd be curious to hear what everyone else's take on food poisoning risks and travel.  I talked about it a lot with my boss and co-worker during our trip - they are both very daring and will eat pretty much anything, anywhere. They have estimated that they get sick about 1 in 10 times on work trips, so for them, they'd rather take the risk and eat something delicious.  I don't know - maybe I'm overly cautious, but hearing the details of how sick they were (ie coming out of a sketchy bathroom in the middle of nowhere with just one sock) makes me cringe.  What do you think dear readers?  Go ahead and vote in the poll here:

What kind of Traveler are you? free polls

I don't know about you, but I would be completely mortified if I had to call up current or future clients who I had flown around the world to see and say "Sorry, I've got to cancel my meetings for the next three days because I have explosive diarrhea". Funnily enough, I am actually more likely to be adventurous when on vacation because I know if I'm sick, I can just hang out and be miserable in the hotel.  But if The Company paid a ton of money to fly me around the world and I had all kinds of meetings set up that I had to miss...   I guess some people probably wouldn't care about that, but I would end up feeling extremely guilty. 

As such, I've got a pretty good list of tactics that I have used to so far, *knock on wood*, not fall sick while traveling.  This can also be more or less strict depending on the country, if I'm in the capital or out in the countryside, etc.

In general, I tend to follow these rules in most places, at least when I travel for work:
  • Only drink bottled water, and make sure the cap is still on when it arrives (though this is not 100% full-proof, there are some countries where they refill the bottles and superglue the cap back on)
  • Forgo any ice in your drinks, as you don't know how it was made or where it was stored
  • Always wash your hands before eating
  • I know they are super tempting, but try to avoid any fresh fruits or juices unless you are able to peel or prepare them yourself 
  • Be cautious of street food, especially if you have a weak stomach.  If you absolutely want to try some, either pick a place with good recommendations online, or where there are lots of families/children eating
  • If you eat meat or seafood, make sure it is fully cooked - it's just not worth the risk
  • Same goes for vegetables - this is one of the hardest ones for me to follow since I mainly eat raw veggies at home, but I avoid all salads and raw vegetables, and only eat ones that have been cooked
  • If someone invites you over, also be cautious about what you consume at their home - their stomachs are used to the local water and bacteria in a way that yours might not be 
  • Stay away from buffets, because you can never be sure how long the food has been sitting out and at what temperature
  • Ice cream can be tricky too in places that experience frequent power outages or brown-outs
  • I'm not big into hand sanitizers, but if I remember, I do try to use an alcohol wipe on the two dirtiest items for travelers - the tray tables in airplanes and the TV remotes in hotel rooms
 And if I'm in a rural area or a place I'm really nervous about:
  • Use only bottle watered to brush your teeth and wash your face.  Also keep your mouth closed in the shower.
  • If you're in a place that uses silverware, try to wipe it down with a napkin before using it
  • Be careful with straws that arrive unwrapped
  • I always travel with emergency meals - protein bars, oatmeal and dried soups are good substitutes in cases where restaurants are rare or you just don't want to risk it
  • I also try to eat some sort of yogurt every day, just to be sure I've got good bacteria to fight off any bad that gets in
For non-food related action items, I try to make sure I have all the recommended vaccines for each country I visit, and I have my doctor write me a prescription for antibiotics, immodium and other 'stronger' stomach medicines.  Charcoal tablets are also a good back-up.

Lastly - and this isn't food related either, but it's so important - the number one thing I do when I enter any hotel room around the world - no matter how fancy or which country I'm in - is pull up the sheets from all four corners of the mattress and check for bed bugs. Better safe than sorry, and those are definitely critters you don't want to bring home with you!

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

India, take 1

When the opportunity came up for me to go to India for work, I was divided. Half of me wanted to go, to see a new country, and especially one where one of our dearest friends hails from. The other half of me was annoyed with the six months it took to get a visa (and the bureaucracy that makes France look like child's play), and I was also worried about food poisoning since almost everyone I know has gotten sick there.  As a side note, getting food poisoning in the middle of a business meeting or during a long drive where no bathrooms are available pretty much sums of two of my worst work-related nightmares...

In the end, I was slightly underwhelmed.  Before I left, everyone kept saying "It will be like nothing you have ever seen!", and I suppose that never helps expectations.  The best way I can describe it is that it reminded me of a mix of many of the places I visited last year - the temples and tuk tuks of Thailand, the traffic of Manila, the honking (oh the honking! dear lord the honking!) from China, the simultaneous colorfulness and dustiness of North Africa.  But the friendliness I was expecting was not really there, at least not during this trip - one shop owner even called me an asshole when I negotiated a discount on a silk rug for my boss. 

I imagine the staring can be jarring for some people too, but I've grown used to it during my travels, so it doesn't really bother me.  But what I didn't anticipate was the difference in the staring.  Some folks would stare in the normal way because I am blonde, but the young 'rich' men with popped collars would stare very lasciviously, no matter where we were or who I was with. I'm talking up-and-down, full-on, shameless ogling that gives you the heebie jeebies. And then on the other hand, I'd have the older men that we met with in business meetings who wouldn't look at me at all - they would look around me or near me, but never directly at me, which was equally disconcerting.

I also wasn't expecting to eat so much meat.  Meat meat meat.  It never ended. I didn't eat a single vegetable until the 4th day in, and that was only because I very strongly insisted we order at least one plate of vegetables.  I normally eat meat 1-2x per week, so it was definitely an overload for me. My boss and co-worker loved it though.

The pressure of being appropriately dressed was also a stress for me. Luckily our friends were able to help me choose some outfits that were both respectful and modest enough for business meetings yet also breathable for the hot temperatures.  But it also made me slightly angry that I had to adapt my attire so much as a woman, whereas my boss and co-worker could just wear what ever they wanted and no one would blink an eye. 

And maybe that's what's clouding my view overall - this is the first time in the nearly ten years I have been working for The Company where I have attended business meetings with my boss, and I was really hoping to shine and show off my skills, but the general deference toward men throughout the whole trip didn't really give me an opportunity to do so, leaving me feeling slightly defeated.  He even mentioned after a few drinks that he was disappointed that I hadn't been more forward.  I tried my best to explain that it's such a fine line as a woman some times - 90% of the time I work with men of a certain age, and it can be really difficult (for me anyways) to find the balance between being assertive while also trying to respect cultural differences, especially when it's a country I don't know very well yet.  At the end of the day, I just wanted to reflect a positive image of my company, and I erred on the side of caution instead of 'in their face'.  It's frustrating at times - sort of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Anyways.  I'm probably just tired after the 3am departure, the 10h flight and the strange 4.5 hour time difference.  Our meetings did go well overall, so if things keep moving along, I will likely go back 2-3 more times this year.  At least now having been there once accompanied, I'll feel safe going back alone (however I was surprised that the presence of my boss and co-worker did not stop people from touching my butt in public).  And who knows - I may be treated completely different by everyone the day they will be forced to deal with just me instead of my male colleagues.

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