Tripping Through Europe

by admin on September 3, 2009

When I was a sophomore in college, I decided to take advantage of my university’s well-known International Studies program and signed up for a three-week long travel seminar in Italy and Austria. I would love to go back sometime, but with a different set of travel companions!

I knew before even leaving town that my fellow travelers were a piece of work. The vast majority of them were the kinds of girls who personified every possible negative stereotype about the US Greek system. In addition to being extremely rude and disrespectful to the professor, they seemed to only care about three things: drinking, shopping and hooking up with as many Italian men as possible. As a rather introverted self-described bookworm, I knew I would have little in common with them.

Fortunately (or so I thought), N and P were also attending the trip. N had been my roommate for the past year and we had quickly become very close friends. She was a very sweet girl but had absolutely no spine when it came to standing up for herself. N’s boyfriend P, frankly was a bit of a redneck, but he and I had always gotten along well enough and he seemed like a fairly nice person. I figured the three of us would have a lot of fun exploring Europe together.
 
Ohhh was I wrong…

Among P’s many antics throughout the trip:

-Being the “chivalrous man” that he was, he declared himself navigator-in-chief (because, as women, N and I could not be allowed to carry the map). Needless to say, P’s map-reading skills were practically non-existent and we spent our entire free day in Rome wandering the streets completely lost, missing out on over half of the cathedrals that our teacher required us to find as part of our grade.

-P and N got into a screaming match on the Roman subway train. Apparently N was “wasting too much time” because she had the AUDACITY to stop in a restroom and CHANGE HER TAMPON! There was much yelling and slapping involved and it was all I could do not to get off the train at the next stop without them.

-At the Tuscan wine tasting that our professor paid for out of her own pocket, P loudly declared that everyone (not just the perpetually hung-over partyholics but even the native Italians who worked at the vineyard!), were going to burn in hell for taking even one sip of wine. Interestingly enough, P and I follow the same religion and I am yet to find the section of doctrine that equates moderate consumption of wine with eternal damnation. Needless to say, this did not prevent him from taking advantage of the sake bombs at a Japanese restaurant we visited later in the trip.

-Throughout the trip, I tried to speak the local language as much as possible as a sign of respect to those who live there. Apparently P had a problem with this because he yelled at me in a Florentine restaurant, saying that since I don’t know Italian, I should speak English because “everyone in the world speaks English anyway.”

-Made our entire class late for our gondola ride in Venice because he wanted to have a romantic moment with N in front of a well-known landmark, then got lost trying to make his way back to the meeting point (N is female and therefore unable to read the map, remember?). And apparently the romantic moment continued throughout the gondola ride, so instead of enjoying a nice view of historic Venice, I got to watch P and N sucking face.

-Spent the 8-hour drive through the Alps making racially-based comments about K, my boyfriend at the time (and supposedly a friend of P!), who is of a different ethnic background than P, N and me. Fortunately, K was not on the trip, but even so, I learned yet another unflattering aspect of P’s character.

-Camped out in N and my hotel room in Salzburg. I was hot, tired, getting sick and nursing a huge blister on my foot, and when I asked him to please leave so I could take a shower and a nap, he refused. Eventually I ended up dragging my coughing, sneezing self down the street to find a drugstore that sold cough medicine, and when I returned over an hour later, he was STILL THERE prank-calling various other guests in our hotel room and speaking in a thick, obviously fake German accent. Eventually I just went to bed, feeling very uncomfortable, and I never did get to take my shower.

-Accused me of “embarassing him” when I took out my umbrella in a moderate rainstorm (keep in mind, my sniffles had erupted into a full-blown respiratory infection and only cough drops and Sudafed were standing between me and an early flight home).

-Told the entire bus full of classmates about a rather embarrassing medical problem of mine, which I had confided to N in hopes that, as a former pre-med student, she might know a remedy for.

But the incident that takes the cake…

We had just arrived in Vienna, our last stop on the three-week tour, and our professor dropped us off downtown, telling us that we had to be back in half an hour to go to a concert that she had ordered us tickets to out of her own pocket. Well, as it turned out, Vienna is a rather upscale city, particularly the downtown area, and it took us about 25 minutes to locate a place that served food that was within our meager college-student budget range. Finally we discovered a small, Italian-owned pizza stand. Starving, we were about to order our pizza when the vendor started laughing. P puffed out his chest, stormed up to the vendor, and started SCREAMING at him for DARING to treat American citizens this way and insisting that, as proud Americans, we will not take this insult to our nationality lightly and would not be using his services this evening.

By now, I am fed up with P’s bulls*** and declare that I am hungry and will be getting my pizza anyway. I ask N if she would like to join me, and surprisingly (or maybe not at this point), she refuses, saying that if P won’t eat there, neither will she. But it’s okay, she has some Goldfish crackers in her purse that the two of them can eat. Whatever. I walk up to the pizza stand and P is livid. He then tells me that he and N are going off to find the teacher and that if I want my pizza, that’s okay but they won’t wait for me. And as hungry as I am, I have no choice at that point but to follow them because I don’t want to be stranded in the middle of an unfamiliar city where I don’t speak the language.

P then refused to eat at any restaurant in Vienna except McDonalds for the rest of the trip.

Oh, and the reason the pizza vendor was laughing at P in the first place? P had his shirt on inside-out, with the tag sticking out the FRONT! It seems he never fully realized how ridiculous he looked!

When we got back to school in the fall, N and I remained friends, though it was difficult due to her inability to separate from P. Fortunately, they eventually broke up, though not until 18 months after the trip. A recent peek at P’s Facebook page reveals that he has moved to another state and started dating a beautiful 18-year old (he’s 23 now) of Italian descent! I sincerely hope she has more respect for her culture than he does. I also sincerely hope that any Europeans we may have encountered understand that we Americans are generally kind, respectful, friendly people regardless of the stereotypes P happened to uphold.  0828-09

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexis September 3, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Next time, buy your own map.

Reply

Cady March 24, 2010 at 11:20 am

The Europeans you encountered, unfortunately, probably think that’s how all Americans are. P went above and beyond the call of duty in reinforcing negative American stereotypes.

Reply

Chris July 26, 2010 at 6:16 pm

The old adage, ‘travel broadens the mind,’ is unfortunately subject in great part to the traveller’s own volition; some individuals will inevitably return home with exactly the same attitudes they had before. I sincerely hope your European experience was not tarnished too much by P’s antics; we can’t afford to lose the custom of courteous, respectful American tourists such as yourself. In my perception, the balance is already wildly off-kilter.

What stood out for me was this fellow’s assertion that ‘everyone in the world speaks English anyway.’ Leaving aside the fact that this is completely, laughably wrong, I feel it also breaches an essential point of international etiquette. English may be the dominant business/auxiliary langauge in the world at this point in time, but this does not give English speakers the right to trample across the globe making demands and expecting to be understood without so much as a local variant of please or thank-you. It’s simply impolite, and the bemused incomprehension it can provoke is the very thing that reinforces the culprit’s misconception of French/Italian/German/other people as ‘arrogant,’ more’s the shame.

One evening not long ago I was in Florence looking for a place to eat. We stumbled across a tiny restaurant and because we’d arrived early, the very friendly staff managed to fit us in without a reservation. As luck would have it, I speak passable Italian, having lived in the country and studied the language for some time. I mention this only because the next person to arrive was a lone American who did not even utter a ‘buona sera.’ I would add that a phrase book seemed well within this chap’s means. He wouldn’t have known it, of course, but from what I could see, the waiter had a polite yet markedly different demeanour when dealing with him. I couldn’t help feeling that our friend was missing out on one of the greatest pleasures of travel: the *mutual* exchange of goodwill and respect that even the most tentative prod at the language barrier can occasion.

Just my thoughts.

Reply

Princesssimmi July 26, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Well said, Chris.

Reply

Offshoreoildude October 17, 2010 at 8:26 am

As the first respondent said… “buy your own map next time”… never, ever let another traveler destroy YOUR ability to be independent.

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