It was a beautiful warm summer day in Nice, France and my friend and I wanted a coffee before wandering down to the beach for the afternoon. Considering how touristy Nice is, and how frequently I would be answered in English when ordering in French, we must have found the only cafe in Nice where no one spoke English.
Picture this: I was in China, in Kunming. I needed to send a package back to Australia.
Now, Beijing gets a lot of tourists, so your odds of finding someone who speaks English aren’t too bad. Kunming, however, has hardly ANY English speakers.
I was staying in a hotel, and had put a package together to send in a bag. So, I headed to a post office a few doors down. Pointing at the bag of stuff they understood that I wanted to send a package and sold me a box. Score, they were being really helpful. Then I started writing the address on top, including the Chinese for Australia. I was pretty proud of myself for learning that, and especially how to say it.
The first time I went to Germany in 2001, I figured it’s a civilized country, nothing bad will happen. They probably speak English anyway. I was partly right.
A few years ago, I went to Amsterdam for the weekend. Knowing I didn’t have any accommodation booked, I arrived on a Friday afternoon in the middle of summer. I’m generally a pretty lucky person, so I figured it’d be ok, I’d stay at a hostel or something. They always have beds, right? Not so. Apparently all the usual suspects from my hostel guide were completely booked for the weekend. I got turned away time and time again, until I was left sitting outside the main train station, contemplating how comfortable the benches would be to sleep on. I’m sure I started looking a little homeless, too.