Starting a vacation is for me an abrupt and generally unpleasant experience. Once, on a vacation to Cozumel with my sweetheart, I spent the first afternoon wearing a hot jacket as we strolled together on the sunny beach, because it seemed unutterably lame to jump into something snazzy and tropical. Of course, it was visibly stupid to keep wearing a thick coat left over from the New England frost. And after my sweet and dear one gently questioned my sanity, any retreat to more sensible attire would have entailed a loss of face and an introspective psychosocial analysis I was too goddamned cranky to provide. Such is human perversity.
Why didn’t I just lighten up? Eventually I did; I almost always do. After a day or so, there I was, swaying to salsa music and hoisting margaritas like all the other turistas. But that first day is always a bitch.
Why travel? Where you’re going, chances are you don’t speak the language, don’t know the customs, the inside jokes, the good restaurants. You won’t know if you’re regularly being fleeced in business transactions. Fiddling with small change in stores will make you feel like a five year old.
Why travel? Chronically happy people easily provide the correct answer: BECAUSE of all those things. You’ll learn so much: think of how much fun you’ll have sorting out which restaurants are merely bad from those which are a genuine threat to your health. I don’t deny that this is the right answer. But the initial cranky period interests me. From the perspective of the first day, let me crank up the cranky knob and provide
TEN REASONS TO DISLIKE TRAVEL.
1. First of all, while you’re away, someone is robbing your house and mistreating your cat. Duh.
2. You can’t speak the language, so everything is awkward, embarrassing, and infuriatingly slow. Or let’s suppose you can speak the language a little. You still feel bad, because
2b. You can’t speak the language well at all (only awkwardly and with that awful American twang), or
2c. You can’t speak the language fluently with perfect use of local idioms, so you’d rather not even pretend, because it’ll just come out sounding awful.
In any event, now they have to speak English with you, and God knows they hate that.
3. You are little more than a wallet. All else is puffery on your part and flattery on theirs. Anyone who depends on tourists bitterly resents them. Why should they have to do a little dance for you just to punch their meal ticket? Honestly, how would YOU like to wear lederhosen and play a tuba every day? You’d be pissed too, tips or not. People in the tourism business vary only in their ability to mask the creeping homicidal mania to which they all eventually succumb.
4. No matter how you choose your itinerary, you will miss the really good stuff. If you plan carefully and obsessively, you won’t be able to improvise and so you’ll miss the proverbial forest for the trees. But if you don’t plan carefully, you’ll waste most of your time standing in lines or sitting in cafes trying to figure out what to do.
5. Americans are bad people, disliked the world over. This is bad news no matter where you go. Your best bet is to try to act invisible and apologize a lot using (without even realizing it) a lame unplaceable quasi-European accent. Please please please don’t put a Canadian flag on your luggage: Stand up and take your well-deserved abuse like a man. The only consolation here is that the Germans are almost as loathsome as you are.
Other tourists, particularly Japanese, are good for making fun of. Try it and see how much it does to assuage your downtrodden self-esteem. See how those Japanese just want to take pictures and then leave! Ha ha! But you know how to do it right, yes sir. No one would ever laugh out loud watching you. Note: this technique is not likely to make you feel any better if the other tourists are Americans, or God forbid, in your party, or God really forbid, your family.
6. Tipping is an activity expressly designed to make you crazy. There is a suave process and correct amount to tip the monkeys who assist you throughout your trip, but you are clueless. James Bond can do it, but you? Give me a break! If you give too much, they will smirk because you are a cash-fat dope, a naive mark begging to be stripped of available funds. If you give too little, they will smirk, and you just know that they’ll be talking about you with their little monkey buddies. Even if you manage to guess the right amount, you still get the smirk if you are awkward and stiff in your delivery. That little smirk is a pain worse than a severe hickey.
7. Your whole trip is one big cliche from beginning to end. I know you planned it carefully and bought the expensive but tasteful Dorling Kindersley Travel Guides. But won’t you feel like a dope when you realize all the other tourists in that darling “undiscovered” restaurant are referring to the exact same page of the exact same guidebook so they can see what to order for dessert? You are just like every other goddamned tourist on the planet, no matter how superior you feel to those poor Japanese, except since you are American, you are actually worse. Just because. Now go to the back of the line.
8. It is possible to die from embarrassment, and you just don’t need to run the risk. Embarrassment sickness is much like altitude sickness. You need to build up tolerance to it slowly, or the shock to your system can be fatal.
9. You can’t win. If your destination sucks, then why bother going? On the other hand, if everything is better there, then you must be some kind of idiot not to live there.
10. Nobody else worries about all this shit as much as you do, and frankly we’re all getting tired of hearing you go on about it. Would you please just shut up and enjoy the show?
Beware of these warning signs during the first day or so of your trip. Give it some time and the pain will probably pass. Strip off your ingrained habit-crust and run around naked for a few days. Try on a little simple dignity. It’ll do you a world of good.