I’ve been lucky enough to do quite a bit of travelling in my life. As a family, we travelled all over Europe when I was just a lad, and recently I’ve had the opportunity to visit more exotic places like India and Hawaii. What I’ve learned from my travels is that the key to a great experience is to leave your predispositions on the airplane and commit completely to the culture; eat like the locals eat, travel like the locals travel, and – provided you’re skiing in France – wear a fart bag.
One of the things I learned very quickly is how much people appreciate travelers who make a genuine effort. Americans get a bad wrap by Parisians for bustling about in their “Born in the USA” leather jackets by Wilsons and asking random people where the nearest McDonalds is and, when they find one, spending an inordinate amount of time holding up the line while trying to order a Quarter Pounder. To be fair, these people should get a bad wrap anywhere including back here in the US of Fuckin’ A. While every culture is different, I find that by and large, if you simply make an effort and show a some respect for the local culture, people will be very accepting of you.
But everywhere you go is different, of course. In Europe, they like it when you speak the language or admire the beauty of the country. In India, they love it when you show enthusiasm for how batshit crazy the place is. This particular anecdote will ring louder for the software developers in the audience, but one afternoon while I was in India, I was chatting with a manager at my old company and remarked how amazing it was that given the hierarchical structure of their culture, that the traffic is so chaotic. “In most things, we use the Waterfall method. In driving, we use the Agile method.”
On the other hand, the Dutch just like to prove that they know something you don’t, so all you have to do in the Netherlands is ask questions. Don’t overdo it, though; the Dutch don’t suffer fools lightly. For example; I am fluent in Dutch but don’t spend enough time there to understand the rail system the way they do. So, I rarely ask for help with the trains in Dutch; if I do, they treat me like I’m one step left of an amoeba. If I ask in English, I’ll be politely guided through every step of the process. After all, it would be impossible for an American to understand that intricacies of their highly sophisticated system.
The French, I’ve come to understand, only resent people who don’t try to speak French. You don’t have to speak much of it or speak it very well; just make an effort, and they will be fine. I’ve never had a single experience with the “disdainful French”; in fact, I’ve had more than a few discussions with wait staff at restaurants who insist on speaking (a very broken) English to me, and I insist on speaking (a very broken) French in response. This particular case is more polite than it is effective.
French is perhaps the most glorious sounding language on the planet; I’d love to speak it fluently, but am only conversant at infant-level French. Nevertheless, I find it very important to familiarize myself with the most important phrases I’ll need when travelling there. In an effort to lend some assistance to those in the community who are joining us in Lille for Keepers Tour 2013 this year, I offer the following Quick Start Guide. And, always remember Rule #89.
A general expression of surprise:
Qu’esque c’est le fuck avec Ã§a?
An acknowledgement of someone’s not inconsiderable skill on the bike:
You can close down a misunderstanding with a simple phrase like,
C’est la meme chose thing.
Being amenable with a choice,
Je suis OK avec that.
Asking a mate how s/he is doing:
Qu’esque c’est up?
When intimidating your riding mates:
Laisse tomber le hammer.
Finally, when referring to whomever wins Roubaix this year,
Il est une homme bad ass, n’est pas?
See you on the flip side in France. Vive la Vie Velominatus.