Reading through your ‘Travel” section of the archives reminded me of how my own dear family decided to act on a European vacation we went on!
The vacation was to be a week-long cruise starting in Barcelona and going to parts of Italy and France with my mother’s family – Gramma, Aunt Carol, Aunt Lisa, and her son Bob who was two years older than I, as well as my younger brother, mom, and dad. Since my mother and father met during an exchange program in Austria, Dad decided that we four would spend an extra week in southern Germany and Austria before heading to Barcelona. I had been taking German classes for four years at this point, my brother had just started a German class, and my dad majored in German, so I was quite excited for that portion.
To prepare, I did some research on how Americans should conduct themselves overseas to avoid being “rude Americans” or standing out as targets for pickpockets or thieves. Suggestions I found included learning some basic phrases and names of food you like, and dressing a little fancier – no athletic gear worn as normal clothes, no white socks with shorts and sneakers, no backpacks or fanny packs, no cameras worn on the neck, no baseball caps, dark wash jeans, and no chewing gum or being loud. Since Dad was being very paranoid about having money or phones stolen, I relayed the suggestions to him and printed out some basic food phrases in the various language, as well as phrases like “Don’t touch me,” and “No thank you” in case we were approached by shady characters (we were taking public transportation at times and Dad was rife with horror stories about them).
The German part of our trip went off relatively without a hitch. Dad, thrilled to be back in one of his favorite places, struck up conversations in German with every waiter and taxi driver we came across just to prove he could. I made sure to order everything in German, ask questions in the shops in German, and speak in English only when spoken to first. The only problem was Dad’s attire – everything on the “don’t” list, plus a bright blue hiking backpack with neon orange clips that he clipped over his shirts and wore everywhere. Overall, though, we had a great time in Germany and Austria and even met up with Dad’s old host family for an impromptu snack when we were in the neighborhood!
We eventually arrived in Barcelona and met up with the aunts, Bob, and Gramma outside of our hotel. We were in an older, more historical section, and Gramma wanted to go see a certain cathedral. Upon entering the hotel, the first words out of Aunt Carol’s mouth were, “DOES ANYONE HERE SPEAK ENGLISH?!” She repeated her question to the lady at the front desk, who answered, “Nope, Spanish,” with more than a hint of sarcasm. After the initial embarrassment, we asked the lady if there were any good tourist attractions that were okay for walking-challenged Gramma, and we mentioned the cathedral. “No, no!” she cried. “That will be so boring for your children. So old! You should see the MAGIC FOUNTAIN!” She helpfully gave us directions. Naturally, as we walked there, we had to stop every ten feet and make Carol, Lisa and Gramma were still behind us and not just randomly standing in the middle of the walkway taking pictures of the buildings, the people, the pigeons, the signs, the ground, the trash cans, the homeless man peeing in the street…
When we arrived at the fountain, I decided the concierge lady had pulled a little prank on the rude Americans. The fountain was there, and it was a very nice large fountain lit by many colors, but surrounding it was the Barcelona Gay Pride Festival. There were open-air urinals, rainbow everything, many people being affectionate, plenty of alcohol, and an enormous stage with an elaborate drag show being put on. My conservative Gramma was speechless, only uttering “Well…look at the very pretty men…” I was about to die trying to suppress my laughter as my relatives all stared blankly forward or at the ground and marched towards the fountain!
The rest of our trip had a similar theme of “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?!” Taxi drivers in Barcelona had long conversations with each other outside the taxi with the meter running, since we had no way of communicating with them in Spanish. English menus were demanded in Italy and France, often with the waiters’ faces drooping into a glower. Photo opportunities were apparently everywhere, even in the middle of crowded squares! We weren’t as bad as some of the stories on this blog, but I was still more than a little embarrassed that my family wasn’t even trying to fit in or do their best to interpret the menus. Luckily, nothing was stolen from us.
My Dad has invited me to come on another European cruise with my immediate family over the summer, this time with a week in Germany preceding a cruise around Sweden, Russia, and more northern countries. Unless he learns to speak a lot of Swedish and Russian before then, I think I will pass! 0910-15
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