Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Ugly American

Researching the trip to Germany involved reading tales on how to always be polite and try to do the right thing at all times. Americans are thought of as thinking they are superior to others, they think nothing of ignoring customs of other countries and doing their own thing etc. etc. etc.

Getting into Munich at about 8 in the morning on the first day was fine but after being there less than an hour we discovered how hungry and tired we really were. Trying to find a place for breakfast we came upon a pastry shop and bought some. No coffee however unless we agreed to eat at the establishment. We happily would have done so but the tables were stand up tables (high with no chairs) and frankly we were too tired to do so. We bought coffee at another place and then looked for a place to sit down.
With all of the "rules" swimming through our head that was difficult. Would sitting at certain tables be considered okay? Did they belong to the restaurants that were in front of them or were they for the general public? No one else was around (Munich seems to start later than other cities). I finally gave out and suggested that we sit on the back steps of a church that had a sign posted for no food inside the church. Okay, . . .so we were eating outside the church. That should be fine I argued to the family. We started to eat only to have an old German lady run up to us and scold us for desecrating her church by eating on the steps. The guys were embarrassed and I felt bad by upsetting them. We finally found a table elsewhere and sat down.

A few hours later we passed the front of the church and there was an entire class on a field trip eating their lunch on the front steps of the church. Hmmm. I still wasn't sure if that exonerated us in our earlier, seemingly social faux pas or not.

Why do I mention this tale? Cautionary to future travelers to watch where they eat breakfast? Be more paranoid about what they do in another country?

No. In fact I would say be less paranoid. Have good manners but don't sweat the small decisions. For what I discovered after being in other German cities was that women of a certain age in Germany liked to yell at people. They yelled at their own countrymen, they yelled at foreigners, they liked to point out what others were doing wrong, what people were eating on their plates etc. This is what they do. It is personal to them only.


Fast forward to yesterday. We got on the plane to come home. Heavy American lady sitting in front of us on the isle seat. She seemed to be fine until almost everyone had been seated. THEN she started to yell. She was disabled. Had some sort of problem. Had always had problems traveling this particular airline. They treated her like crap. Blah, blah, blah. Then she started to yell at an attendant. She wanted a better seat. (We were in economy class - an isle seat was the best she was going to get and she had to have known that if she had traveled this airline before). Anyway, the screaming went on until someone in a higher class ticket graciously agreed to give up their better ticket and let Screaming Woman have the better seat. (Screaming Woman was screaming again at the end of the flight as she was taken off the plane by wheel chair and not taken off fast enough in her mind. There were people waiting for her.!!! No she was not in a wheel chair originally - she seemed to be able to walk fine.)

My advice on travel is this:

Do the best you can, have a good time and remember what the definition of ugly really is.

1 comment:

east village idiot said...

I'm not at ease traveling in other countries. I should be - but I experience the same anxiety that you did in the beginning.

I feel sorry for people who come to NYC. It can be so overwhelming - people come for some authentic NY experience and that puts too much pressure on them. New Yorkers don't always know what an authentic NY experience is!!!

Sound like you found your balance and had a good time.