In Aurora, Illinois, I agreed to have breakfast with the winners of a “funniest story in my travels” contest before I gave my talk.
When I’m on a lecture tour, to be honest, I am focused on the big groups. (And I am amazed at how talking to a 500 people at once can be less demanding of my energy than talking to individuals before or after a talk.) Climbing down the stairs that morning, I went into the breakfast room a little tired and feeling sorry for myself.
The dozen travelers assembled were a delight and I thoroughly enjoyed the breakfast meeting I was not looking forward to. Conversation thrived as the well-traveled gang shared favorite memories of past trips — many were the results of little mishaps, generally caused by the language barrier. Here are my two favorite stories among the winners:
On my first trip to Paris several years ago, I was exploring on my own and decided to visit the Musée D’Orsay. I had a museum pass, but the line to get into the museum was still very long. People were standing very close together outside, waiting to enter.
It was a chilly spring day, and I had my left hand holding on to my shoulder bag, while my right hand was tucked into my coat pocket. Suddenly, I felt a gentle touch on my right arm; I turned my head and saw a well-dressed, nice-looking older woman standing next to me. She had linked her left arm through my right arm, and she was smiling happily, looking off to our right.
I thought, “Don’t be an Ugly American and make a scene! She’s not doing any harm, and maybe this is just something they do in France to be friendly. Chill out, relax, and see what happens.”
We stood in line together peacefully for about ten minutes, until the line finally started to move. At that point she glanced at my face and her expression turned to one of absolute horror. She pulled her arm away from mine, turned around and ran away.
I guess she must have gotten separated from her original companion, and I never did see her again, but I was very proud of myself for having kept my “savoir faire” that day.
Thanks for reading my story! Maria C, Oak Park IL
My husband and I booked a one-week hotel package at the beach in Italy. We experienced the worst July week at the Adriatic Sea in decades: it rained the whole week. My husband and I had caught a cold and sore throat which were getting worse. My husband decided to buy some Contac (US cold remedy). Being a foreign language teacher, I impressed on him to pronounce the vowels the Italian way (“kohn talk”). He came back and said, yes, he found some.
Before going to bed, I asked him for the “Contac” when I pulled two flat boxes out of the paper bag it was clear that he did not buy “Contac.” The Italian label on the boxes was CONTACTO D’AMORE. He had purchased prophylactics.
Now things became clear to my husband. The (English) conversation in the pharmacy had been difficult. The person had asked him if he wanted 2 or 4. My husband said “Give me 4, my wife has a cold too.” He recalled the clerk giving him a really puzzled look.
Since the product was fairly pricey and my husband was reluctant to return it, I went to the pharmacy and explained the whole thing again. The clerk politely asked me to wait and went to the back of the store. There was a conversation in a low voice and then muffled laughter from the pharmacy staff.
Happy travels, Petra T, Aurora, Il.