Most Embarrassing Travel Moments: 2008
Part of the fun of travel is the ridiculous spots we find ourselves in due to a language barrier, cultural misunderstanding, or just bad luck. Do you dare to share your most embarrassing European travel moment?
- Please don't post questions here. Use our Travelers Helpline.
Jaywalking in Switzerland
In Freiburg, Switzerland--my husband and I were out very early one morning when we came to a stoplight. Granted it was about 6AM, we have not seen a single car around, that I decided to cross the street. Well, the frau on the other side of the street started seriously scolding me in incomprehensible Schweizerdeutsch!!! I turn around and my husband was laughing at me for practically being citizen--arrested for jaywalking!
Chicago, IL USA Mon 12/15/2008
I had that same experience with the metro doors with me as well! Luckily my husband was there to bail me out!
USA Fri 10/17/2008
Trapped! in Montparnasse...
It was my first time visiting Paris and I had just arrived by train into Gare Montparnasse. I had to transfer to the Metro and, though my French is poor, I smoothly navigated the crowds and purchased the correct ticket. I was feeling pretty good about myself as I waited in line to use my ticket at the gate and head underground. The gate was not a simple turnstile as are common on American public transportation. It was a set of 5-foot sliding doors that parted long enough for someone to get through, and then shut tight until the next customer inserted their ticket. When it was my turn, I stuck my ticket in the slot and the doors opened and I proceeded through. The trick is, the doors only open long enough to let a BODY through before they slam shut, and I was wearing a large hiking backpack! The doors clamped tight onto my backpack and I was stuck with a long line of commuters behind me! I couldn't even get my arms out of the straps! After struggling for a minute, the doors magically opened and I was free. It turned out that the girl behind me had inserted her ticket, and that's why the doors opened. But now the timing of the doors was off because they allowed my backpack to go through, so when the girl tried to get through they slammed shut on HER backpack! Luckily I was able to use pry them open for her and things were back to normal at Montparnasse.
Chicago, IL USA Sat 09/20/2008
While going up an escalator in London, I had two rolling suitcases. I put the biggest one on the escalator along with my left foot, thinking the suitcase that was behind me would just follow...but it got stuck on something, causing half of my body to ascend, and the other half being pulled in the opposite direction. Eventually, it came unstuck, but the people on the escalator were getting a good laugh. When I saw them laughing, I burst into laughter too, shrugging.
One time I went out to a buffet dinner in the US with two non-americans, and before we sat down, I excused myself to the restroom. When I got back, they were still sitting there, looking around like they had no idea what was going on. I said "Didn't you get your food?" And they looked at me blankly and said, "where are the waitresses?" I never thought to tell them that they could get the food themselves. Oops.
Washington DC, USA Wed 09/10/2008
No Scams Here!
My poor grandmother just didn't know what to do in Paris! As we approached the Eiffel Tower one afternoon, I warned her about scam artists around the base: "If someone asks if you speak English, pretend you don't. Pretend you're German." Sure enough, a few minutes later here came a man asking if we spoke English. Grandma panicked and shouted "No!", which sent in to gales of giggles & the would-be scammer running. "Shut up," Grandma said, "it worked, didn't it?"
Corpus Christi, TX USA Fri 08/22/2008
On our first vacation to Florida my boyfriend accidentally lifted my dress while we were dancing. I tripped on my heel and started to fall. He reached out and tried to hold me up. I slid through his arms and up went my dress. I was mortified!
Denver, USA Fri 08/15/2008
Americans - decent tourists
Americans (some of them, that is) must be the only people who worry about "Ugly X" sightings and make it a point to disparage their countrymen and feel superior doing so. I doubt that the Germans or the Italians, for instance, who deserve their well-known, unflattering reputations as tourists, give a fig about what others think of them. Actually, taken all-in-all, the Americans come off pretty well, at least in my experience.
USA Wed 07/16/2008
Ugly American Sighting
We got on our train, a Eurostar, going from Firenze to Venezia. My seat was a single, near the end of the car. Someone had covered my seat with several huge screaming pink suitcases. My husband had to drag them off my seat and into the luggage rack area, where we saw a few more screaming pink suitcases. I looked at a luggage tag to see who would be a**hole enough to travel with so much luggage and also who would be so inconsiderate on a packed train to cover up someone else's reserved seat. Yup, someone from "Sugar Land, Texas." My husband said he knew it, no European would do such things. When we got off the train in Venezia, we loitered to see what someone with so much luggage looked like. We saw a fat middle-aged guy wearing shorts and a baseball cap pull up outside our train car with three luggage carts. We had our man. I think he was traveling with his wife. Sheez.
Minn. USA Thu 07/10/2008
Had to comment on the lady who said her dark hair and eyes were unusual in Finland and caused people to stare. What is she talking about? The Finns are not known for being blonde/blue eyed like other parts of Scandinavia. Finland shares more in history, language and customs with Russia than with the other countries in the area. Dark hair and eyes are VERY common.
Covina, Ca USA Mon 06/16/2008
Can you spare me a dime...
We recently took a two week Transatlantic cruise and then spent a week in Italy afterwards. Packing for both parts of the trip was a challenge, as I was determined to limit myself to a carryon.
I decided to bring cotton "broomstick" skirts with me. One of them was a multi-color, patchwork skirt.
As I was wearing this skirt, I noticed several of the guards in the Uffizi Gallery giving me odd looks. It took me a while to figure out that I was dressed rather like a street begger! Yikes! I don't think the guards thought I was a begger, they just couldn't figure out why the crazy American was dressed like one!
Needless to say, I've retired that skirt from my travel wardrobe!
Kirkland, wa USA Thu 06/05/2008
Don't Leave Your Platform
Our train to Munich pulled into Salzburg on time and as advertised but seemed to move pass our assigned platform. We hurried down to the next platform, jumped on, and we were on our way. Not quite!
When the conductor started to punch our ticket, she exclaimed, "Munich? No, Innsbruck." Seems the long train pulling into Salzburg with one engine at the front and another in the middle uncoupled. Our part of the train that we ran to continued on nonstop to Innsbruck and the second half (boarding at our assigned platform, continued going to Munich.
After a pretty two hour sidetrip to Innsbruck, we purchased another ticket to Munich and arrived no worse for the wear but with a better understanding of it doesn't hurt to show the conductor your ticket before boarding just to make sure!
McDonough, GA USA Tue 05/27/2008
Rick Steves is Watching!
This was the last day of a 10 day trip to Paris with our 3 kids. We'd done all the RSs auidioguides and walking tours and I'd been spewing RSs quotes all week. We were sitting on the steps behind Versailles after trekking all the way back from the Hamlet enjoying the view on our last night. I was reading something from the RSs tour, I forget what it was. My 18 year old had enough and felt the need to make a smart remark (teenagers!) "Hey Mom, I'm sitting on the second step, I'll bet RSs tells you to sit on the top step for the best view. Wonder if he's watching me?" At that point the young guy sitting near us on the step whips out his RSs book from his backpack and holds it toward my son and says "RSs is always watching you!". We all had a good laugh! What a fitting end to our trip!
Mars, PA USA Sat 05/24/2008
No shoes on train seats allowed!
Speaking of not putting your shoes on train seats, me and a friend were on an overnight train from Venice to Zagreb. The train was arranged so two seats faced two seats, so was easy to put the feet up. I took off my shoes and decided that the seat across from me would be a nifty place to set them. Suddenly I heard a very annoyed "Uh-uh, no, NO" from across the aisle and a very irritable older woman was pointing at my shoes and demanding that I remove them from the seat. Meekly I did so. I swear I never even thought twice about whether I was supposed to put my shoes there...I just did it!
USA Tue 05/20/2008
Monkey Business on Gibraltar
While visiting Gibraltar, we took the tour up the Rock of Gibraltar face. The face is home to the Barbary Apes - the only primates that live on the European contient. These apes are wild, and are totally unafraid of human beings. Indeed, they jump on you, looking for food. We stopped at the first view point, and were astounded at these apes in and amongst the tourist group we were in. One British lady, wearing a lovely, rather loose - fitting tank top, was stopped dead in her tracks when an ape jumped up and perched itself on her shoulder. With out missing a trick, the ape immediately plunged his hand down the front of her shirt, frantically searching her shirt, bra and so forth for food. The poor woman was mortified, red-faced, standing absolutley still, not knowing whether to scream, run, cry or laugh. From the outside, the ape's hand movements in her shirt looked like two kids fighting under a blanket! The entire group was roaring with laugther. The poor apopletic woman was finally released from trauma when her little buddy scampered off for more chow somewhere else. We had tears streaming down our cheeks, and were unable to breathe for several minutes as we recovered our composure, and continued with the tour.
Any one for a banana?
Virginia Beach, VA USA Sat 04/19/2008
While taking a ghost and ghoul tour in Edinborough, our guide took us through a few rooms that were underground. While in one room the guide proceeded to tell us how haunted the room is. As she was telling us the story, my friend tapped me on the back to tell me something. I thought it was a ghost and screamed. A chain reaction formed throughout the group resulting in EVERYONE screaming and trying to rush out of the room at the same time (some even fell and were trampled upon!) After we regrouped ourselves the guide askedwhat happened. I said soemthing tapped me on the shoulder (still thought it was a ghost!) Just at that moment my friend stepped forward and took responsibilty...but she ddn't know it was her that set me off! She was just as scared as all the rest of us! At the end of the tour as we were exiting underground they had someone jump out wearing a mask to scare us. At that point none of us jumped, we already had our excitment!
Winnipeg, Canada Fri 04/11/2008
Spanish Steps Slip
On our last evening in Rome, my sister and I decided to check out the Spanish Steps just as the sun was setting. The Spanish Steps are rather steep and very slick, and both of us were wearing grip-less flip flops. You guessed it...just as we were commenting to each other about how treacherous the steps looked, we both slipped and fell simultaneously in front of countless people in our skirts. It was mortifying, and most everyone had a good-natured laugh at us, but moments like these were the most memorable of all.
Fairfield, ND USA Tue 04/08/2008
American History 101
Another note---know some basic American history! On my first trip to Europe, my sister and I went with a tour group, which included a bus tour in each city. In London, the tour guide would ask us questions about American history and virtually no one---including myself, I admit---knew the answers! I wasn't exactly embarrassed but I wished that I could have demonstrated that some Americans really do care about their heritage. Also, reading about the history and culture of the places you are going to see makes it much more fun and interesting.
Fairfield, ND USA Tue 04/08/2008
The Prision Gate
Several years ago while traveling with family members on a Sunday in East Anglia, England we came across an old castle that had been converted to a prison. We decided to go for the castle tour not realizing it was still a working prison. We got in line and saw the people in front of us with their driver's licenses being checked at that gate. As we got closer we pulled out our passports. When the guard got to us he asked, "Who are you here to see?" Little did we know, we were at the wrong entrance. We had ended up on visiting day at the prison. We quickly went to the other entry and enjoyed a lot of laughter on that one!
Sacramento, USA Thu 04/03/2008
Picnic Gone Wrong
While visiting the wonderful Naschmarkt (nibbles market) in Vienna, my husband and I picked up a few treats for lunch. We bought some wonderful pickled garlic & cheese stuffed olives that would be part of our picnic lunch. The vendor poured fresh olive oil all over it to preserve until meal time. So we wrapped it up & went on our way to see the world famous Lipizzan horses at the Spanish Riding School. Right as it was our turn to purchase tickets my husband noticed the Euro he was holding was absolutely soaked in oil! Apparently, the container had opened and spilled all over (including into a medium sized puddle on the beautiful marble floors!) I immediately ran to the cafe and asked for a towel or cloth. The waitress was annoyed at my demanding tone, so she handed me about 3 napkins (uh thanks, but I don't think that'll do it!!) By the time I got back folks had tracked olive oil all over the foyer. What a mess! After explaining to the ticket lady what happened, we paid & left quickly praying that we didn't have to exit through the lobby!
Fort Walton Bch, FL USA Wed 04/02/2008
Mind your language ...
While visiting friends in France my brother tried out the French he learned in school to impress a girl he just met. What he wanted to tell her was that she is "la plus belle" (the most beautiful), what actually came across his lips was that she is "la poubelle" (the trash can). This story is haunting him to this day - 30 years later ...
Calgary, Canada Sat 03/29/2008
MY college bud and I went to Rio de Janeiro for the Copacabana carnival as a birthday present to me. After we put down our luggages at the condo we rented for the next 10 days, we ventured outside to have lunch. This was the day when locals and tourists alike dance on the street in every corner where there is music. But we were very hungry that our minds were set on finding where to eat lunch as it was already 4:30pm and after a very long overnight trip from L.A. via Miami. We did not know we have to dance when they ask us to, so we got sprayed with foam all over our heads and clothes, everyone was looking at us like we were criminals. It was our first time there and all the books and guides we read mentioned nothing about it. Since they don't know us anyway, we just smiled and pretend nothing happened. We did some dancing after the hearty meal. A couple of days later, we decided to go where the locals were, we passed by a local restaurant. We have a limited understanding of spanish, but since brazil is portuguese, we tried so very hard to understand the menu. What my bud did was walk around the restaurant and looked at customers to see what they were eating. We found this man eating something that looks so good we called the waiter to order what it was. Note that he does not speak english nor spanish. After we pointed out the dish, he kept on saying no no no no. We found out later from a customer who spoke little english that the man was the owner and what he was having was a special dish cooked just for him. When told, the owner gladly shared his food with us and even gave us a free drink. We went back there three more times during our stay. And do you want to know the story about their coffee? I am an early riser and I went to McDonalds for breakfast only to find out that they open at 10:30a.m. I passed by a small restaurant so I sat down and ordered coffee. When he gave this small glass with only a few drops of coffee in it, I asked if is this it? So I motioned for him to pour more which he did. Little did I know that that coffee was so strong I stayed awake the next two days. My bud and I have been to many places in Europe and Central America. All of our travels have this mis-adventures it always made our trip so very memorable. My bud and I made plans to do more of this type of vacations we are planning to go to Peru next!
CA USA Fri 03/28/2008
When I was little, my parents took me and my sister to Paris for Spring Break. It was fantastic! Anyway, we went to Pizza Pino's (a very good restuarant), and had a lovely dinner. After we were done, I lead the way to the exit. However I did not see the three marble steps and consequently fell down them. Out of shock and some pain from a scraped knee, I started to cry. Suddenly we were surrounded by what seemed like everyone in the place. They ushered me to a chair, gave me some ice in a napkin and asked my dad in rapid french if they need to call an ambulance. My dad, using the French he had learned in college, told I would be fine and an ambluance would not be needed. I was only 7, but I was mortified by all the attention a scraped knee was attracting!
TX USA Sun 03/23/2008
Nothing like successfully driving throughout northern Italy and even in Florence without a scratch on the car only to scrape the fender on the wall of a parking garage in Heidelberg to deflate ones ego... The word I have to type in below is very apropos. Crabby. That is how I felt after scraping that &%*$ fender.
Taylor, TX USA Fri 03/21/2008
It's a Beautiful Day, But...
We were at Schiphol Airport (Netherlands) a couple of years ago and were heading to Haarlem by train after an overnight flight during which we hadn't slept at all. We changed trains in Amsterdam for the short trip, 15 minutes or so, to Haarlem.
After AT LEAST half an hour I realized that we should be there and started looking up station names on my map. A very kind conductor realized I was getting concerned and asked where we were going. His reply was 'I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that it is a beautiful day, and we are in a beautiful part of Holland. The bad news is that this train is heading for Germany'.
He was kind enough to write on our tickets what had happened (I am guessing it was the Dutch version of 'help these idiots get off at the right stop' and put on a train going the opposite direction.
We almost did the same thing a few months later. I crush my masculine pride and ask a conductor before boarding now...
Dover, DE USA Wed 03/19/2008
Don't leave without me
My wife, another couple, and I were on a train on the way to visit some friends in a small town in Germany. We were busy talking when the train stopped and (we didn't know it at the time)all the people left the train. We continued to talk, heard an announcement in German, and continued discussing are travel plans. We heard 2 more annoucements in German, but really didn't pay attention to them. Shortly, the conductor came up to us and motioned that we had to leave the train. We got off, not understanding why as we thought the train went straight through to the town we wanted to go to. As we departed the train, we saw a train right if front of the one we had just left leaving. We then watched as the train we had been on was shunted off to the side and parked. A kindly police officer had been watching us on the train platform, and,while somewhat smiling, asked us where we were going. When we informed her, she stated that the train we had just watch leave was the one that was going there. We weren't told that we had to switch trains in this town to get to where we wanted to go. We found out that the next train would be leaving in an hour or so. We made the most of our "layover" and had a few beers at an outdoor biergarten and laughed about what we had just done.
Lakeville, MN USA Sat 03/08/2008
Grand Hotel, Portovenere, Italy. I had just threaded my freshly rinsed dainties onto one of those stretchy travel clotheslines ... chair-to-chair on our balcony, when the entire thing slipped from the chair backs and launched itself over the wall and down five floors to the street below. The balcony extended over the street, so I couldn't see where my laundry had landed, but I watched in shock as a village signore, clearly heading for an afternoon visit with his friends in the nearby park, stopped, bent over, and stood up, stretching out my clothesline and its contents. He looked around but not up, pocketed everything, and continued his stroll.
I wouldn't have minded shopping for new underwear in Italy, but that clothesline would have been hard to replace there, so off I went to retrieve my property. To his credit, the gentleman did not appear at all suprised when a middle-aged American lady, who had perhaps had a bit too much Mediterranean sun and wine at lunch, approached him, saying "signore, e il mio!" while making stretching gestures with her hands. He withdrew the clothesline and dainties from his pocket and handed them over with a slight bow, saying politely, "prego".
Oak Harbor, WA USA Sat 03/08/2008
On my first trip through Europe a friend and I hopped a speed cruiser ship from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia and back. Upon arriving in Tallinn we got in line at customs to have our passports stamped. My friend stepped up to the custom official who began to yell at her in Estonian, confused she took her passport back and walked through the gates. I got yelled at the same way but understood enough to realize i was in the EU only line.
Upon passing through customs with stamped passport in hand we realized that my friend had received no stamp and had in fact just walked through customs without anyone noticing. More or less she "snuck" into the country. she sure received one heck of a speech from the Finnish customs agent when she tried to leave Estonia without an entry stamp.
On teh speed ship back to Helsinki the extreme speed of the ship made me quite naseous so to calm myself I fell asleep. I awoke to an elderly Finnish man leaning over me laughing, in broken english he told me I had been snoring, quite loudly, but that the men loved to watch me snoring because it was so "cute" to see a young girl snoring. I was horrified until I realized that they stared at everything I did everywhere I went in Finland because my dark hair and eyes were so unusual to them.
VA USA Fri 03/07/2008
Frog radios and bat trees
I was finishing a study abroad trip in England in December, and was buying Christmas presents for friends back home. At a street market, I found an adorable frog shower radio. I went to purchase it, and the woman asked me if I needed "bat trees." She kept repeating it as I tried to figure out if she thought I needed bat-somethings to go along with the frog. A minute later, an American friend who'd spent a lot more time in the UK, joined me and "translated." The poor woman was asking if I needed batteries for the radio.
Phoenix, AZ USA Thu 02/07/2008
Blue "eggs." That is one of the best ones I have seen here!!!!
Richmond, Virgin USA Thu 01/24/2008
beautiful blue eggs
When I was 17, I was touring Germany with my best friend and, being the flirtatious young miss I was, I decided to tell our handsome bus driver that he had beautiful blue eyes. (Which he really did.) So, in my best German, I told him "Sie haben schone blaue eier". At which point he, my best friend (fluent in German, unlike me) and every German around busted out in raucous laughter.
Wiping her eyes in mirth, my friend then told me that I had mistaken the word for eyes (augen) with the word for eggs (eier), ...thus ostensibly telling the driver, he had beautiful blue balls ("eier" also being slang for that!). Eek. I took the ribbing as good naturedly as I could, but everyone asked me about my liking for blue eggs for the rest of the trip.
Austin, TX USA Fri 01/18/2008