Avoid the Oops — Not Trying the Language

Katerina, my new Greek friend who taught me the proper Greek alphabet
© Stephanie Glaser

During a layover from Athens to Amsterdam, I took advantage of a free minibus tour of Budapest, arranged by the airline company on which I flew. Because the tour was conducted completely in Greek, I didn’t learn much about Budapest, but I befriended the seven other travelers on the van who were all from Greece.

The only Greek word that I knew was “Efharisto,” (thank you) so whenever I could use it, I did.

Katerina, a seven-year-old girl who was part of the minivan crew, giggled and said something to Gabriella, one of the two English speakers in the group. Gabriella told me that Katerina found it funny that the only thing I could say in Greek was “thank you.”

Through Gabriella, I told Katerina I actually knew the Greek alphabet. I spared relaying the details of how I had learned her language’s alphabet, along with such skills as playing quarters and other drinking games, while in a sorority at college. Then in a moment of silliness, I sang her the version I had learned courtesy of Delta Gamma.

For a minute, as everyone sat in silence, I thought I had offended them. Then all the Greeks broke out into uproarious laughter. Clearly they got a big kick out of the Alpha Beta Gamma ditty, and they had a hard time composing themselves again.

Although slightly embarrassed, I never felt like they thought I was an idiot. Entertaining, yes, but stupid, no. In fact, Katerina and her grandfather offered to give me a proper lesson in the alphabet. They patiently waited for me to repeat each letter after them.

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“Tossing cookies” into a Dutch Canal

One of Leiden’s many canals.
© Stephanie Glaser

“Overgeven.” It’s a Dutch verb that translates as: “to vomit, barf, spew, puke.” It covers pretty much every way to expel your insides. And, really, it is one of the most effective verbs in any language, because when pronounced properly with a “guttural g,” the word sounds like what it is.  A global onomonopia. The result, indeed, sounds like heaving or at least clearing a stubborn popcorn kernel out of one’s throat.

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The Friday Travel Ahhh…

© Stephanie Glaser

As anyone who travels knows, there are missteps, mishaps and misadventures, but then there are those perfect moments when we say: “yeah, this is why I travel.” I’m choosing Fridays to be the Travel Ahh… day

I love this photo because this Dutch man is so in the moment. I ran over to take his picture when I saw him dancing on a wall in Amsterdam on Koninginnedag or Queen’s Day. The Netherlands celebrates this holiday every April and it is not about having tea and crumpets while Queen Beatrix waves from a balcony. It’s a day when the normally somewhat reserved Dutch really revel. The day has a huge sense of community — everyone is accepted as Dutch on Koninginnedag. To me, this photo captured exactly the feeling of the day.

A Rotterdam hotel: “We only charge by the hour.” – “Oh.” Awkward.

Rotterdam — Amsterdam’s grittier cousin.
© Stephanie Glaser

Visiting the Red Light District in Amsterdam is like going to an amusement park: lots of twinkly lights, displays and crazy characters in abundance. Additionally, a Dutch friend once told me that you’ll find a bigger police presence there than in the rest of the city. Consequently, it’s surealistically safe. Indeed, Amsterdam is well-known for the Red Light District and the more tolerant attitude toward drugs and “sin.”

Rotterdam’s vices, on the other hand, are a little less Vegas. It has always seemed a bit more gritty to me. For example, I actually experienced my first sighting of someone smoking crack in a phone booth – in broad daylight on a quiet city street. Of course, Rotterdam is one of the largest port cities in the world – so there’s bound to be a seedy element somewhere in the city.

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