Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I see a lot of resumes and cv's in my job, and I've noticed that people are starting to list the number of countries they've been to as though it were a miscellaneous qualification.
I'm often nonplussed when I find the bullet point: Visited 33 countries. Is that a good thing? Is 33 a lot? How did he visit? Was it tourism or travel with a purpose? Did he learn the language? To see nothing but the phrase: "Visited 33 countries" seems like a provocation and leaves me with far too many unanswered questions. The higher the number, the more suspicious I become. Is this a succession of one night stands in someone else's land? Did he see anything besides an airport and  hotel? How much additional scenery would I consider enough? 
And no question is more likely to bring my children to blows than, "How many countries have you been to?" The problem is in the word "been." If the plane lands but you do not leave, have you been in the country? Literalists, like Gwyneth, would say absolutely. Or do you have to actually mill around in the airport, use the restroom, buy something? Eat at least one meal? Sleep overnight? Legalists like Gareth want to see a longer commitment. 
I sympathise with the desire to tally countries. I know full well that people collect countries the same way they collect stamps. Those of us who live in the U.S. have it especially rough -- it takes a long time just to get out of the U.S., let alone into any other country. Think how easily one can take on the Benelux -- a couple hours drive will give you three for your scorecard. 
Those scorecards come in many shapes. Some people put pins into maps. Gwyneth has a bracelet, (see above) with charms carrying the flag of every country she thinks she has ever been to. Every so often she's glad to add another link. Last summer it was Ecuador -- a full month of trekking, so no quarrels over whether she was really there; this year it will be Italy, with her Latin class, sizing up antiquities. 
As a middle schooler Gwyneth ran cross country in the Central and Eastern European Schools Association (CEESA) league. She ran through forests in the Ukraine as a 7th grader, and came in very respectable fourth, as I recall. And she is the only person I know who ran in meets in Albania not once but twice, so no one argues with her over those flags. But to get to Albania she had to travel through the airport in Bucharest. To get to Ecuador she had a layover in Costa Rica. Gwyneth sees them as part and parcel of the whole experience. Others (Gareth) sneer at their inclusion, seeing these stops as only a means to an end.
Who is right? As their mom, I stay out of this. What is certain is that Gwyneth's bracelet, begun many years go in Prague, is one of the her most cherished possessions.  She would tell you that it has 17 links, good enough for any resume. Gareth would tell you that Austria remains hotly disputed.   

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