Every week is full of awesome little occurrences–seemingly insignificant instances that are nonetheless impacting for a foreigner striving to fit in with a culture. Sometimes these are positive experiences, leaving you feeling like you grew in some way; sometimes they’re full of fail, leaving you feel like a total noob.
The following fall into the latter of the two.
Why won’t it rip? (1/25)
There was about a 3-hour layover in the Munich Airport. When washing my hands in the bathroom, I was really having a tough time ripping off some paper towels from the dispenser. I tugged, and it pulled out a little, but not much. So I tugged harder, then studied the dispenser to see if I could notice any signs of doing this all wrong. I tugged to the left and to the right, forcefully and gently, outward and straight down…no luck. WHY IS THIS ROCKETSCIENCE? I thought, then pondered if it was just jammed. At one point I was using both my arms with all my might to tear the paper towels.
After several minutes of struggling, I finally realized that this was not a dispenser but a machine: you are not supposed to rip it off. It will loop back into itself. Good job, Germany. I like the eco-friendliness.
LESSON LEARNED: Don’t go Hulk on items that seem to work wrong: it’s you doing it wrong
But I need a bag… (1/26)
On Thursday night we ventured across the river to go to the only large supermarket in Florence. The shopping itself was not too difficult, because I had already studied translations of food items that I knew I’d be regularly buying, and you can just look at the products anyway.
Checking out was the toughie. First, I freezed up–couldn’t even produce a greeting to the cashier. He seemed grumpy already, so I probably exhasperated his mood and our 5-minute customer-employee relationship by exchanging no words at all with him, except for the price and a “grazie.” After paying, I went to bag my groceries, but encountered un problema: no bags. I was clearly confused, standing by my food on the belt and looking around the area for any bags. That’s when I noticed that I probably had to ask for one (or just be offered one like apparently the rest of my friends were offered). So I said “Mi scusi” (“Excuse me”), hesitated, and then made bagging motions while saying “Per favore.” This is when I was still getting over the S.U.C.S., so I was especially frazzled and kind of wanted to cry when the very annoyed cashier gave me a nasty look and threw one plastic bag my way…which definitely did not suffice for holding my groceries, but I wouldn’t dare request anymore. Clearly American enough already.
The bag broke, and my groceries started oozing out. (Thankfully my friends pulled through to help me out with the walk home).
LESSON LEARNED: Bring a reusable bag, or ask for whatever amount you need before paying.
Wrong answer (1/29)
This guy was talking to me in Italian, but I couldn’t understand a thing. I froze up, not being able to produce any words. Eventually he asked, in English, “Do you speak English?” Finally a quick response came out: “No.”
Why did the word “No” come out? For one, I obviously do speak English. And secondly, it was probably obvious to him too since that’s the only sentence I responded to.
LESSON LEARNED: Think before you use an automated response
That time I caused a fiasco (1/31)
Yesterday I stopped by a caffè to grab a coffee. I finally did everything right!–Didn’t need to admit that no parlo Italiano (I don’t speak Italian), already knew the amount to pay, and just seemed to be accepted as a local rather than a foreigner, which is always a great vibe.
Between the good experience and jolt of espresso, I left with an extra kick in my step…literally. A man holding two cappuccinos needed assistance, which I didn’t realize until I already exited out the door to enter the sidewalk. So I akwardly went “Oooooh!” and twisted in a weird way to open the door behind me for him, as if I was stopping it from closing on a blind person about to be slammed by a closing door. Thankfully the man got through without a chaotic mess; I, however, did not.My boot kicked right into the large metal trash can on my left, which caused a very loud noise. You could hear it slam against the sidewalk as it bounced away from me with force, and broke into its three parts. “OOOOH!” “OOOOOOOH!” was all I could utter. Cigarettes and ash were all over, and the trash can was rolling down the sidewalk. “AAAAAAAH! MI DISPIACE!” (“I’m sorry” — Or, technical translation “I am displeased with myself,” which may be more appropriate for this situation) I yelled in a panic, as the guy with the cappuccinos behind me watched the chaos unfold. I quickly scrambled to pick up the trash can and its parts, and do my best to briefly make the mess less messy.
I did not walk home feeling like a champ.
LESSON LEARNED: Look before walking, and don’t get frazzled
Many more failtales to come.