One of my favorite things about traveling is my ordinary (or sometimes not so ordinary) interactions with the locals. When I traveled to Europe for thirty days back in the summer of 2010, I had a few of these moments that are still very much alive in my mind. While these memories are meaningful to me, they aren’t necessarily significant to the every day pers
The reason they are to me is because, for a moment, even though there was a huge language barrier between us, I was able to have a conversation with someone who lived a completely different life from me.
The first from that trip was in Heidelberg, Germany. If you know anything about me, you probably know that I lived in Germany for three years when I was younger. Because of this, I absolutely love Germany. I love the people and the food and although I hardly know any German, I do know how to count to ten (and say I love you, but that wasn’t very helpful!). We stayed at a small hotel on the countryside right outside of Heidelberg. It was beautiful and the people who worked in the restuarnt knew about as much English as I knew German (or maybe less?). The manager/bartender was an adorably plump German man and he didn’t know a lick of English. Our waiter didn’t know much either so we resorted to writing all of our orders down in German to make things easier on them since there was at least twenty of us occupying about four tables.
There were a couple snotty girls on the trip with us who just didn’t get the memo.
They tried to tell the waiter what they wanted and tried to tell him to omit this and add that… the typical American. The poor fella had no idea and the girls just kept getting frustrated at him and became more and more snotty. Myself and the rest of my table felt absolutely awful for the way the girls were treating them. This was their country and their language was German, not English. They had no right to get so mad at these people because they didn’t know English.
After dinner, a few of us stayed behind and ordered drinks at the bar. There, we were able to show the manager and waiter that we were nothing like our annoying counterparts. We may have never spoken a word of German and they may never have spoken a word of English, but we somehow understood each other and ended up laughing and smiling. We tried. We didn’t talk down to them when they didn’t understand, instead we tried our best to understand them instead. I was able to order a frozen drink and the manager even ended up giving me pretty much a whole drink for free because he had some left over in his blender. It was a small gesture of kindness after such negativity from the others. I was so grateful that these wonderful people knew that we were nothing like them.
It may not have been a significant moment in his life or even mine. But, the memory will always stay with me.
The next two memories happened in Madrid, Spain. I know a decent amount of Spanish because I took it in high school and college. This does not mean I know enough to have a full on conversation with someone who is fluent. Also, please note that I have a southern accent. **Laughing ensues thinking about Spanish spoken with a southern accent**
The first significant memory in Spain happened when a girl from my trip and my boyfriend at the time decided to stop at a little supermarket on the way back to our hotel. The place was very tiny and the only wine they had was about five bottles behind the cash register. The young Asian woman behind the counter was the only person working.
I walked up to her, tried my best to ask which wine was the best (I’m pretty sure I probably just pointed to the bottles and said “Vino… Bueno?”) and mimed as well. She spoke fluent spanish to me and tried her best to mime back.
From what I gathered, the cashier didn’t drink wine but she had a friend who was a drunk and loved it.
At least that’s what I assumed. She then proceeded to take the cork out of one of the bottles and pulled out a dixie cup (all I could think at this moment is no one would ever get away with this in the States… and why does she have a cork screw and a dixie cup at the ready if she doesn’t drink? But I digress…) and pour a little bit of white wine into the cup. She handed it to me, expectantly. I took a small sip and then I handed it to the girl with me to take a sip. It wasn’t half bad and it was only three or four Euros. We made another exchange about her drunken friend in my half decent, half horrible spanish, the wine was purchased and we were on our way.
To this day, I still can’t believe she let us try the wine before we bought it. What if we hadn’t liked it? Would she have put the cork back in and tried to resell? I guess I’ll never know.
The final moment is one I’ve always tried to forget and made me terrified of thunderstorms for years after. I was caught in a thunderstorm… alone… in Madrid… in an area I didn’t know well at all. There wasn’t enough room in the taxi for everyone I was with. My boyfriend decided to take off running alone, thinking I would get in the taxi. I wasn’t going to leave him by himself in a strange city – I’m a great girlfriend like that, duhhhh. But he was faster than me and didn’t realize I was following so I ended up alone and lost. Story of my freakin’ life.
Now when I say thunderstorm.. I mean torrential downpour with water up to my shins on the sidewalk and knees in the street (maybe even higher).
I didn’t have an umbrella and I was wearing flip flops and jeans. Ever tried to walk in a downpour in flip flops? Yeah, not easy. Add in the jeans weighing you down, being in a city you don’t know that’s famous for pickpocketing and being absolute hysterical crying and you’ve got a joy of a time (acknowledge the sarcasm).
As I was saying, I was alone and after about thirty minutes or so, I happened to recognize a museum we had gone to earlier that day and remembered the general direction of our hotel from there. I was almost there, but I had to cross a busy street. I’m standing there on the corner and watching people walk…. well, more like swim… across and I don’t know what in the world to do. The water is literally thigh deep and it’s hard enough to walk through calf deep water with jeans and flip flops. I was stressing out that I’d be hit by a car in the process because I’d be too slow.
At the moment where I’m about to completely lose it, I see the girl next to me laughing.
I turned to her and she looks at me, shakes her head and then motions likes she swimming. She clearly knew I couldn’t speak English so she was miming it to me. For some reason, that was exactly what I needed to calm down. Maybe she wasn’t a familiar face to comfort me but having an interaction with a human being at that moment, making light of my terrible situation, was exactly what I needed to feel alright.
I know these experiences probably don’t mean much to the average person, but if you love travel for some of the same reasons I do then they just might. I love those little moments. I love the jiggle of a German bartender’s belly as he’s laughing at my bad attempt at German, I love the jokes of a cashier as she’s helping me find what I’m looking for, and the stranger’s attempt at making conversation on a street corner. I love being a part of someone else’s world, if only for a moment.
I wonder if those people ever think about the interaction they had with a silly little American girl.
You never know.
Comment below and tell me about an “insignificant” significant moment you’ve had while traveling! And while you’re add it, use the share buttons below to share this post on social media! Thanks for the support. 🙂
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