I've been teaching a travel class at OLLI @ UNLV on Monday mornings this semester. If you know anything about OLLI, you know that my class is not a for-credit class but more of a class to share information and such. I pick a country and discuss food, culture, and so on. I started with Italy (of course), but for the last two weeks, I've covered a lot of the preparation stuff – looking for hotels, airlines, and cars, packing, passports, etc. You get the idea.
Today I asked the class about some of their not-so-pleasant travel experiences. One gentleman was on midnight flight from Chicago to NYC and saw a meteor light up the night sky. A lady mentioned spending an overseas flight telling the kid behind her to stop kicking her seat. (He finally quit when she threatened to break his arm.) Another one mentioned the time a woman stood in the middle of an airplane aisle and demanded that someone change seats with her so that she could sit next to her friend. My favorite was the lady who spoke about having her suitcase blown up by the airline after a bomb scare on a flight from Burbank to Sacramento. (It's a long story.)
I, of course, had to mention the Prague robbery, the lock-out in Italy, the stalled airline flight, lost luggage, screaming kids on too many flights, and the Man in 12E (You know of whom I speak if you've read my poem about that experience. If you haven't, check it out here.).
At one point, someone brought up the fact that so many Americans travel to foreign countries without knowing about the culture, food, customs of that particular country. That, in itself, is not really a bad thing although the way Americans tend to behave when confronting cultural differences is definitely not a good thing. One episode that sticks out in my mind is the time I was in Mexico and heard a man yelling at a waiter who couldn't understand the man.
"How many times do I have to tell you? Can't you understand basic G-D English?" he screamed. "Darn idiot." Yikes. Good way to help improve the American image abroad, Dude.
I always tell people that they should know about 10 phrases in any foreign language, please and thank you being two of the most important. My list also includes hello, goodbye, police, Where is xxxxx?, How much is xxxxx, Excuse me, Do you speak English?, and Help. I usually also know how to ask someone to speak more slowly, to tell someone to leave us alone and to tell someone I like something. It goes a long way to make even a small effort.
At any rate, 30 days from now at almost this exact minute, we'll be taking off for London on our way to Paris. Yikes!! I need to start learning a few more French phrases.