Most Embarrassing Travel Moments: 2010
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?
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European bathroom signage
Seems that many embarassing moments involve bathrooms, as does mine! I'm staying in Poland for awhile, although it's been 10 years since my last visit here. I was at the movie theater and went to the bathroom before the movie started. You can imagine my panic when the only signage on the doors was a triangle and a circle. Ok, so I had a 50/50 chance here. Recalling the Da Vinci code, and noticing the similarity to the typical women's bathroom dress, I chose the triangle. You'd think the urinals would have tipped me off, but nope. Luckily, the bathroom was empty so I only had a brief awkward moment when I walked in as some man walked in. Lesson learned: triangle is the men's bathroom and the circle is for women. My blog: http://bit.ly/a3cvC1
Chicago, IL USA Wed 09/15/2010
We didn't realize that in busy restaurants in Barcelona, when you call for the check and they bring it to you, they expect you to pay Right Then. We spent a confused 10 minutes, watching our waiter come by and glare at us every 15-30 seconds and get increasingly more ticked off.
Portland, OR USA Sun 09/12/2010
When visiting Menerbe, France, I entered a bathroom which only had a turkish toilet. This was the first time I have used one. Just as I straddled the toilet, the lights went out. (set on auto switch.) I was startled and fell on my butt. Struggling in the dark on my hands and knees, I found the light switch and, voila, light again. I will spare you details about cleaning up. Top that one!!!
Richmond, VA USA Fri 07/23/2010
Money Belt Discretion
When traveling by train from Paris to Amboise, I qualified for a senior discount. The young woman conductor asked to see proof of age, so, without thinking, I reached into my pants to pull out my money belt where I kept my passport. Not realizing what I was doing, the conductor averted her eyes and coyly said, "Oh my!!" At the next stop, I started using the other money belt that clips on my belt. I was much more discrete after that.
Richmond, VA USA Fri 07/23/2010
First-time nudes in Mykonos
As part of a cruise, my wife and I had a port of call in Mykonos. We thought it would be fun to try nude sunbathing--something we had never done, and I had read that this was acceptable here. We picked an area not too far from where the ship docked. My wife only got topless because we didn't see other nude folks, but confident that it was ok (I had read it in several places on the 'net), I bravely stripped down to my birthday suit. People seemed to react to us as if we were doing something weird or improper. After a couple of teenage young girls gawked and giggled, I put my shorts on and my wife put her top back on. Soon, a man approached and asked if we had been nude. I told him we're tourists and we thought it was ok. He said there are more secluded beaches for that, and he even showed us on my map where those beaches are. We felt so humiliated as we sheepishly skulked away.
Ron & Sheila
Toms River, NJ USA Fri 07/02/2010
Last summer I was quietly sitting waiting for a bus at the Koenigsee near Berchtesgaden when a carload of overdressed Americans pulled up, yelling and complaining about the long walk down to the boat dock. They hadn't checked the schedule for the boat rides, and so they were too late, and they were making a big scene about it in the car park. All the others waiting for the bus were watching them in disgust at their obnoxious ill-mannered behaviour, and,being American, I sat there cringing in shame for them.
Chicago, IL USA Tue 06/29/2010
You drive, I pay
My wife and I were on the Circumvesuviana train returning from Sorrento to our cruise ship docked in Naples when the train stopped at a station about halfway between Pompeii and Naples and apparently broke down. Everyone looked upset and many were on cell phones explaining their plight to people who were expecting them. We couldn't understand what was being said and no one seemed both willing and able to help us with a translation. We were supposed to be back on board by 6:30PM and here it was 6:10PM and we had been stopped for 15 minutes. If we missed the ship, we would have a huge problem, as the next day was an at sea day, and the day after that we would have to find a way to get to Mykonos, a small island with a very small airport. On top of which our passports were aboard the Ruby Princess. Finally I had enough and decided we had to find a cab. I figured we are in a train station less than 10 miles outside a major city-- there must be cabs. However as my wife and I wandered into this quiet little neighborhood, there were no cabs to be found. I saw one resident, a sophisticated looking woman and asked her "Where are the taxis?" "There are no taxis." "Can you call us a taxi?" "Oh no... it is impossible." I then noticed an older professional looking gentleman and I asked him. He spoke very little English (and me even less Italian) and tried his best to convey to us that our best bet was the train. I had given up on the train (based on how little time we had left and the looks on the faces of other passengers who understood the repeated messages), so I asked him to drive us to Naples. I was that desperate. He said "No capish." Gesturing like I was playing charades, I said quite emphatically, "You drive... I pay... Napoli". Again, he did his best to convey that our best bet was the train. While he was explaining this, the train we had been on suddenly left the station for Naples. Seeing how anguished we were, he explained "cinquo minuto" or something like that... every 5 minutes. Suddenly another train was coming. I began to run up the ramp... the man chased after me urgently trying to convey something. My wife was in between and didn't know what to do. She didn't want to be disrespectful and turn her back and run for the train even though she couldn't understand him. That train never slowed down and just went flying past the station. "So that's what he was trying to tell us" I thought as I panted trying to catch my breath. Again he told us to go wait on the platform-- 5 minutes. Sure enough, about five minutes later there was a train. But we still had a big problem. When we got to the Naples train station it was 6:37PM. By the time we got a cab it was just about 6:45PM and there streets were filled with traffic. I knew the rule of thumb was that if all the passengers hadn't yet returned they only stayed about 1/2 hour after the all aboard time-- so we had to be on board by 7PM or we would likely see the Ruby sailing off into the sunset. We explained to the cabbie and boy did he understand! He took off, going the wrong way down a one way street and forcing drivers who were going the right way to pull over and let us through. He even drove over a median and again went the wrong way for several hundred feet along a 2 or 3-lane boulevard. Once inside the port, he sped like a maniac and blew through stop signs without ever slowing down. He got us there at about 6:56PM. Of course we tipped him extremely well-- 50 euro for a 15 euro fare. We rushed through the terminal as fast as we could. When we emerged onto the dock there were quite a few Ruby passengers on the balcony having fun cheering us on "Go! Hurry!" The Ruby porters were in the process of removing the gangplank! However I do suspect they knew we were coming and did that for show, but in any even it did scare us half to death as we screamed "No!!! Wait!!!" When our fellow passengers saw that we made it they gave us a hearty round of applause. Any of you Ruby folks recall that event on June 2, 2010, we'd love to hear from you!
Brockton, MA USA Fri 06/25/2010
trying to impress the locals with my Italian!
My husband and I were in the San Lorenzo market in Florence, and we were so amazed at the lovely leather goods for sale - nothing like Italian leather! Well, I wanted to make sure the vendors knew how excited I was, so I walked along, exclaiming "oh, palle, palle"... blah, blah, blah.... well, it turns out that "palle" means "balls" (as in the de Medici family motto - yes, those balls) and the word for leather is PELLE! I just laughed out loud when a nice young man corrected me and told him "siamo Americani - di Texas - woo hoo!" We all had a great laugh at my expense!
Fort Worth, Texas USA Wed 06/23/2010
Running in Paris
I'm an avid runner and will run anywhere. I had traveled to Paris by myself and brought my running attire with me. I was pretty jetlagged so I decided to get up and go running to get rid of it. Instead of researching parks and fitness centers, I got dressed into my gear, hopped the Metro during Monday rush hour, and got out at the Seine river.
Being from Seattle, a very fit city, I thought nothing of it. I figured others would be out at this time, plus it was boiling hot, I figured others would be wearing similar attire. Turns out EVERYONE on the Metro was wearing suits, long pants, long skirts, long sleeves, and there I was in my skimpy jog bra, shorts, and running shoes. Needless to say, everyone was staring at me, I'm sure I looked like a complete idiot.
Luckily when I got to the river, there were other American-looking runners, but man, was I sure embarrassed. I wonder how they got there without being gawked at.
Luckily, I have since researched places to run in Europe, I have a 3-month trip planning this summer...
Seattle, WA USA Fri 05/28/2010
How to exit the RER station in Paris
I was trying to exit the Paris RER station and the turnstile would not turn. I was dumbfounded as on the metro you can just exit the turnstile with no problems. I tried climbing over the turnstile thinking it was broken. Then I remembered Rick's tip to insert the ticket upon exiting. Sure enough it worked.
So when you cannot exit a turnstile off the RER station or any other metro station be sure you have your ticket to exit the station. I was cursing the machine in French lol.
Saratoga, CA USA Sat 05/22/2010
Language Barriers can be a hoot
After putting my daughter on a train back to her school in Nantes, I found myself with three days in Paris - all by myself. And promptly got violently ill. After two days of high fever, being completely bedridden, I began to get concerned. What was the French equivalent of 911? Well,I finally called down to the front desk, to the witchy-woman who spoke no English. I don't speak French, but I do speak Spanish, and thought I could fake "I'm sick" in French. I kept repeating, "je suis enfermee" (enferma is spanish for sick). But I found out later I was saying, "I feel claustrophobic (or closed-in)." So it's not surprising she wasn't sympathetic!
Bellevue, WA USA Wed 05/12/2010
I was that ugly American...
I'm a college-educated professional and I was 34 years old at the time of this incident. Am I the only one who misbehaved in Europe?
My wife and I were on a Mediterranean cruise and had a port of call in Naples. After seeing Pompeii we decided to visit Sorrento. We found a nice cafe with a great view, but if we wanted to keep our outdoor table, we had to keep ordering coctails. As my wife doesn't drink very much, I was drinking most of hers too-- even though I don't drink all that much myself. Well, after eight coctails I was thoroughly inebriated. As we were walking (or staggering in my case) back to the train station, we happened upon the statue of St. Anthony and my wife suggested I pose with it for a picture. Like a total drunken jackass, I managed to climb up onto the pedestal and stand behind St. Anthony. I wrapped a leg around him, stuck out my tongue and gave him the bunny ears while my wife snapped the photo. I then hopped down thinking I got away with my goofball antics when an angry little man old enough to be my father (if not my grandfather) came running up to me cursing (probably) in Italian. He grabbed my wrist in a surprisingly tight grip and urged someone to call the police. Drunk as I was I did not want to make matters worse by trying to fight him off and get away. Besides, there was a small crowd gathering that appeared to be supporting him. When a cop arrived a few minutes later, he too seemed angry and offended and he placed me in hand cuffs. He spoke almost no English and I began to sober up as I realized the implications of being arrested. As he began to lead me away, a second cop arrived who spoke passable English. I explained that I was just an ignorant tourist who had a bit too much to drink and meant no harm. I apologized to everyone I offended as sincerely as I could, and luckily, he laughed and removed the cuffs. He even gave us a ride to the train station. Had they arrested me, it not only would have been an even more humiliating nightmare, but my wife and I could have missed getting back to our ship on time. (By the way, I LOVE Italy and the Italian people.)
Aren't there any other folks out there who were the ugly American? I don't consider saying the wrong word by mistake anywhere near as embarrassing as what happened to me. ~
Boston, MA USA Tue 05/11/2010
My wife and I were visiting family in Dortmund, Germany. We rented a car to take a road trip to Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg, etc. and I was driving with Ully who speaks perfect English, and Hans who speaks very little English, along for the ride. And I speak virtually no German. Things would be quiet in the car, but every so often Hans would issue a word that sounded Grouzan and then they would start speaking in German. He has a bit of a gruff personality and I thought he was unhappy with me. Maybe I wasn't stopping frequently enough, or maybe he wanted to drive. I asked Ully "what does Grouzan mean?" and he was perplexed. "I don't know of any German word like that" he replied. Ully insisted that Hans wasn't upset. Some time later there was another "Grouzan", and later on I asked Ully if he heard it, and he said he didn't. I suggested to Ully that I would signal him by nudging him with my elbow the next time. Later on, sure enough, there was another "Grouzan!" I elbowed Ully and he looked like he could barely contain himself he wanted to laugh so bad. Of course I was dying to know what was so funny, but I waited until our next stop. Finally, Ully told me, "Hans wasn't saying any word in German! He was merely clearing his throat!"
Syracuse, NY USA Mon 05/10/2010
Public toilets in Paris
One of my most embarassing moments involved a public toilet in Paris several years ago. As I have a reputation for being frugal, I am always looking for an opportunity to save money. One day I came upon a public toilet that was open and I snuck inside to avoid paying. To my horror there was another person inside who had the same intention. Before I could turn around and leave, the door slammed shut locking the two of us in the toilet. The other gentleman, who was very small in stature, backed into the corner and proceeded to scream bloody murder. The two of us got a good soaking from the high pressured spray used to sanitize the toilet. I made several attempts to calm the man down but to no avail. Imagine my embarassment when the door opened to see that a crowd, including two police officers, had gathered. Thankfully, the police just shrugged their shoulders and the crowd dispersed. So much for free!
NYC, NY USA Wed 04/28/2010
On a recent trip to Amsterdam, we arrived at an ungodly hour of the morning, wandered around finding a cafe for some coffee and such and then decided to "see some of the older parts of the city"...well, we did see some parts, alright! We were smack dab in the center of the Red Light District and the "girls" were open for business even at that early hour. I am in my 70's and every window-mounted female in four blocks just HAD to smile and wave at the old man gawking through the windows! And my friend, also in his upper 60's, somehow got lost wandering the tiny passageways between the buildings. Our wives to this day think he came back with a "quickie" smile on his face.
Allentown, PA USA Sun 04/04/2010
Driving in Germany
While visiting a friend in Lüneburg, Germany my backpacking mate and I decided to take a day trip up to nearby Hamburg. Our German friend was nice enough to let us borrow his car to get to the local train station. The journey there was uneventful, but on our way back we had a little excitement. On our way out of the train station's parking lot we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by 5 Polizei (police officers). As they began yelling at us in German I quickly rolled down my window and handed over my International Driving Permit. It turns out we were driving the wrong way down a one way street and had simply not seen any signage indicating such. After explaining we were Americans borrowing our friend's car we were quickly let go. If you're planning on driving in Europe I suggest getting an international driving permit ($15 at any AAA location) as it provides all information in roughly 10 different languages.
Santa Cruz, CA USA Sat 02/20/2010