Cultural confusion

I’m embarrassed. If I’m not blushing, I’d be surprised. Meanwhile, my sister is in hysterics in the bathroom. “Yes, I just said gracias. Twice,” I admit, hanging up the phone after calling the front desk of our Florence hotel. Why I’ve decided to replace Italian with Spanish, a language I’ve never spoken before, I’ve no idea. God help me. I’m so very, very confused.

Add to that a bonjour at a train ticket office in Rome, a si at a restaurant in Prague and countless other misplaced attempts at communication, and it all paints a classic picture of the overwhelmed tourist. So many countries, so many languages, only one tiny brain!

We tried to learn the basics in the language of the country we’d be heading to next: hi, bye, yes, no, please, thanks and cheers, but, frustratingly, every time I thought I’d gotten a handle on a nice range of greetings and responses, we’d be up and off to the next spot. In fact, wherever we were, I seemed to be about two languages behind. “Grazie mille” I’d say confidently, in Poland, before I had a chance to register my mistake. There was just no helping it.

Luckily, we were understood pretty much everywhere we went. And in no small part thanks to the multilingual abilities of everyone around us. I know it’s lame to rely on that old belief that everyone speaks English anyway, but wow, seriously — most people do. It certainly put our (lack of) language skills to shame. Our super-friendly hotel receptionist in Prague would constantly apologize for his “terrible” English, before giving us detailed info on how to get to the best local restaurants, the bank, the post office and what times the bars closed.

It wasn’t just the language that we struggled with. Travelling to a different country every three days or so meant it was hard to keep up with certain details. Some mornings I’d wake up and for a brief moment have no idea where I was. There were times when you couldn’t pay me to tell you what day of the week it was. And as for working out the currency exchange … let’s just say that crossing my fingers and hoping the charge would go through on my card became somewhat of a habit. Hence one night in Copenhagen where we quaffed countless tasty cocktails oblivious to their CAD$18 price tag. Oops.

But is there any more of a sign that you’re so deeply entrenched in a great holiday than when you lose all concern for the mundane details of everyday life? Sure, it may not be a way of life you can sustain for long, but sometimes it’s freeing to just give up and embrace the fact you’re a bit clueless, and enjoy the ride while you can.

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