Fowler has yet another question!

Old Dec 28th, 1998, 02:08 PM
Wes Fowler
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Fowler has yet another question!

A few years ago, I sat on a bench in the little square in the heart of Hallstadt, Austria admiring a huge, friendly cat which had deigned to sit beside me. A middle aged gentleman wearing lederhosen and looking like the prototypical Tyrolean soon joined me. We engaged in conversation (in English) and I discovered to my delight that I was conversing with Hallstadt's mayor. The conversation proved enlightening, entertaining and most unexpected. One afternoon some years later I joined a distinguished elderly gentleman on a bench in Paris in the little park behind Notre Dame. After a few silent moments he asked me what I thought of Paris (again in English). We talked for quite a while and I discovered he was German by birth, had come to Paris just after the rise of Hitler and learned English sensing that his native German would be frowned upon by Parisians. I wondered if he was one of Hitler's repressed peoples since beneath the park in which we sat is the memorial to France's Jewish victims of World War II. Didn't have the courage to ask if in doing so unpleasant memories would be revived. I've kicked myself repeatedly for not having invited him to join me for coffee at a café just across the river. So many of us return from Europe with perceptions of Europeans based solely upon our interaction with those in the tourist services industry: waiters, concierges, reception desk clerks, taxi drivers, tour bus operators and museum and tour guides. How do you effectively engage the "natives" of the countries you visit to get true insights into the people and places you encounter? What have been your memorable "tete a tete" experiences?
Old Dec 28th, 1998, 05:27 PM
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We started to talk to a couple in York, England while waiting for a tour to start. They were from Glascow, us from the US. Had so much fun talking, we skipped the tour and all had dinner together. Found out he was a major European competitor of a friend of mine. Meal was great, plenty of laughs and they told us about some places to visit. We still talk about that evening . It was a highlight. You are correct. The people you meet make the trip. The people you have to deal with in hotels and restaurants do not represent the country.

Old Dec 28th, 1998, 05:31 PM
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My favorite is when a friend and I were going on a train from Munich to Berchtsgaden and we were playing cards. The conductor watched us and came back through after his rounds. At the time we couldn't speak German and he couldn't speak English--but we could count. So we taught him Twenty-one. He would do his rounds at stops & come back & play. The good feeling was greater than any talk.
What I try to do is find something of history or current events of the country I am visiting, then ask the person's opinion. They are glad that an American knows about the subject (as our knowledge of other countries is suspect) & are very happy to further educate me. I have learned so much & met some very nice people. It just takes a little effort.
Old Dec 28th, 1998, 07:50 PM
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Traveling by train from Florence to Rome, my boyfriend and I sat across from a very interesting gentleman. He was a professor of South American literature at the University of Virginia of Scottish ancenstry born in England whose wife and children live in Bologna. Needless to say, he spoke several languages fluently! Changing trains in Naples, we sat across from a very friendly man who spoke basically no English. We tried to tell him we spoke only a few words of Italian. Nevertheless, we discerned he was a librarian at the Archeological Museum of Naples and invited us to visit his parents' restaurant. He talked away in Italian for a whole hour, telling jokes, while we tried to laugh at the right spots! Two unforgettable characters.
Old Dec 28th, 1998, 08:07 PM
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amd it's all simple..isn't it? To just care about another person...ask a ?...To those who have, and have earned a friendship in return -- a toast! To those stil learning the skill -- see How Easy it is!

To all of us, building bridges, step by step....A toast to a year filled with.....the unexpected!
Old Dec 28th, 1998, 08:22 PM
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I suppose I was fortunate in meeting the "locals" because being young, single, female, and American seemed to spark so much interest in Europe. The "locals" -- wherever I went -- always seemed surprised I was traveling alone and wanted to hear 'my story'. I had many, many a meaningful conversation and met some wonderful people. I was often invited for drinks or a dinner - such a kind offer from complete strangers and one I would not expect in my home country.

Isn't it amazing how incredibly deep, sensitive topics can be discussed with complete strangers in the right circumstances? You might never discuss the obvious - your name, occupation, home, etc. - but you end up discussing something akin to the meaning of life? My most memorable evening with some "locals" was in Amsterdam. I was eating alone in a restaurant at a round table set for three. It was the only table left in the establishment. Two men, not wanting to wait, asked if they could join me. One was old enough to be my father; the other quite possibly my grandfather. It was a wonderful evening, although my activities will offend the faint-hearted. We discussed relationships at length - love and lust and everything in between. We discussed cultures - American vs. European. I still have a poem one of the men wrote me on a napkin. And then, I casually mentioned I would like to visit a live show in the Red Light District. Something I knew I could never see in the US, and also some place I would not go alone at night -- even in Amsterdam. These two gentleman accompanied me to a live show, were inquisitive as to my reaction, and then kindly walked me home and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Many, many people back in the USA have told me I was crazy to trust two complete strangers - but I knew they were good, honest people and our conversation over dinner had 'bonded' us. I felt completely safe with them, and we all learned a lot about each others' cultures.
Old Dec 29th, 1998, 05:26 AM
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A few years back, my wife and I were in Paris and decided to spend a half day exploring Pere Lachaise Cemetery. An elderly Frenchman (about our ages) tipped his hat and asked if we would like to see some of the lesser-known tombs. He introduced himself, and proceeded to tell us all about himself, in Maurice Chevalier dialect. And he led us on an amazing journey. We must have walked miles, seeing all sorts of off-the-wall places and hearing about eccentric or famous persons buried in this huge cemetery. He said he liked to practice his Engleesh, thanked us for our attention, tipped his hat, and was gone. Amazing.
Old Dec 29th, 1998, 05:29 AM
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Wes: Where do you come up with these little gems?

I can't help but think of a gentleman, maybe 65 years old, that we met on our honeymoon in July, '97. His name was Hans Kammer and he came by and sat down with us on a bench in Sachsenhausen on a perfect summers' evening after an afternoon out and about. We were tired and thinking about dinner when he happened by and struck up a conversation with us (in English). He liked my new "Nike" ballcap and offered a trade for a new cap which advertised "Younger" applewine. I accepted the trade and the conversation came upon it being our honeymoon and we were visiting from Pennsylvania. He wandered off and came back with some flowers for my wife and some applewine for each of us. We must have talked for quite some time as it got dark and we headed off toward our hotel. I took his address down and sent him a postcard from home upon our return home. When we revisit Sachsenhausen in May, I intend on looking him up and see how things are. He'll most likely be around the same spot, I bet.

Old Dec 29th, 1998, 07:27 AM
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Some years ago I was travelling in London with a friend, and we decided to go to dinner at the Hardrock Cafe (I know, I know its a cheesy, touristy choice, but we were in our 20's and it was trendy then! ) It was very crowded, and as there were just two of us the host asked us if we would share our table, which we agreed to. We were seated with a young couple, who turned out to be a brother and sister who were very close in age to us. He was a computer programmer born and raised near London. As both of us were also programmers we enjoyed a fascinating conversation about the differences in working environments and education in our field. This dinner conversation has certainly been on of my lasting memories from that trip.
Old Dec 29th, 1998, 08:38 AM
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His name was Philip Sayers, the man from Kent. He was (may still be) the owner of The Abbey Bridge Inn in Lanercost (Cumbria Region), England. His B&B, a small 17th century inn on the banks of the River Irthing that we stumbled upon after a day of driving from Scotland and wanting to see some of Hadrian's Wall. He welcomed us in and made us feel like family. An authority on "real ale", took us that night to the local pub. There we talk for hours about the history of the region (Lanercost Priory, Naworth Castle, sections of Hadrian's Wall were all literally, across the street), the Euro, the situation in Northern Ireland, and Bill Bryson (the American writer), among other topics...

A very nice man, he probably already forgot all about those Americans back in me he became the most compelling reason to always try to make an effort to stay off the beaten track....
Old Dec 29th, 1998, 10:14 AM
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Wes, Here is one for you ! It was about
midnight in the Pub at the Golden Adler
Hotel in Innsbruck---1961. My pregnant
wife and I were on our first Europe sojourn courtesy of " space available"
with the Air Force. Everyone was singing
and drinking when this older German man
struck up a conversation in broken English. He quickly discovered my Air
Force connection and his eyes lit up.
" Ahh, you are in the Luftwafffe--I too
was in the Luftwaffe. You know, you should have been here then[ as he inspected my blond hair and blue eyes],
Hitler would have liked you--you would have been one of the breeders"
My pregnant wife almost fell off of her
bar stool laughing. We hope to have a
beer in the Golden Adler next spring as
we pass thru enroute to Hallstatt and have a good laugh again.
Old Dec 29th, 1998, 10:27 AM
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One of the most memorable was about absolutely nothing. I was in Freiburg, Germany, on a small festival day, standing outside a small pub near our hotel. A drunken German guy asked me to help remove the lock from his bike. We struck up a conversation in German that ranged from NBA basketball to my impressions of Europe. It was good practice for my language skills and a lot of fun.
Old Dec 29th, 1998, 01:51 PM
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On a train from Meknes to Fez, my sister and I sat with a Moslem woman and her 3-year old daughter, Zeneb (sp?). Mom spoke French, Zeneb spoke some French, I speak mezzo-mezzo French, and my sister speaks NO French. Zeneb was adorable; she and my sister played pattycake, tried on sunglasses, and admired each other's jewelry. Her mother and I exchanged banalities and small talk. My sister began pointing to Zeneb's facial features, saying "nose"; "eyes"; "mouth" as we are wont to do with little ones. Zeneb did the same, saying them in Berber...until she lifted her dress over her head, pointed to her crotch and said "tee tee". Her mother turned the colour of cranberries and nearly melted into the floor. My sister and I tried not to laugh, because Mom was clearly chastising her daughter, but we couldn't hold back. We laughed so hard we nearly got sick; Mom started to laugh, apologizing profusely inbetween guffaws. My sister and I couldn't even respond, we were laughing so hard. Finally, through gasps and tears, I managed to tell her in French "this will be a great story to tell my friends" and she said, in French "for mine too, but NOT my husband!" I translated for my sister, and we started laughing again, tears rolling down our faces.
And there sat Zeneb, just pleased as punch with her little self.
Old Dec 29th, 1998, 01:59 PM
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On another rail trip, from Florence to Venice, we sat in a second-class car filled with Italians. My wife and I were talking to each other in typical American slang when suddenly the gentleman seated next to me leaned over and quite suddenly corrected my English.
You are quite right, I said. "Where did you learn to speak such good English?"

He raised his chin, closed his eyes, and said in a loud voice, "During the war, sir. I speak the language correctly, because I, sir, was a prisoner of the ENGLISH." Enough said.
Old Sep 25th, 1999, 08:36 AM
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To best engage locals-- be alone (it's one of the many upsides to counter the downers). Smile. Ask questions. Say at least a couple of words in the language. Be open to opportunity, while using good judgment, of course. You will meet more friendly people than you possibly could imagine. My memorable meetings are endless, but I just wanted to recommend that you try to mingle far from groups to have the most memorable interactions on trips.
Old Sep 25th, 1999, 09:30 AM
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On my first trip to Europe I was traveling alone from Amsterdam to The Hague by train. I sat next to a Dutch gentleman who struck up a conversation. He said he was happy to have a chance to practice his English. By the time we reached The Hague we were engrossed in conversation about our two cultures. He invited me to have dinner that evening at his home with his wife and family. Being young and not accustomed to traveling, I was too embarrassed to accept. This decision turned out to be one of my deepest regrets in all my travels. I feel I missed out on a wonderful opportunity.
Old Sep 25th, 1999, 11:05 AM
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My husband & I took the train into Zurich on our first trip to Europe. We were discussing whether we were headed in the right direction. A young Swiss woman informed us "in English" that we were indeed headed for Zurich & she would be happy to show us around. She picked up a map at the station, circled points of interest, then gave us a grand tour. All this on her lunch hr. She had studied in US for a year and found Americans so kind to her...she wanted to return the favor. Another time in St. Anton, Austria, we started a conversation(in English) with a shop owner. When he discovered we had many common interests, he closed up shop & invited us home to meet his wife. Just being curious & asking questions has led us to many interesting encounters with friendly, helpful folks around the world.
Old Sep 25th, 1999, 12:52 PM
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When I was 20 in the US military stationed (73/75) in Greece. Myself and 2 friends with 3 days off when into Athens and ended up in Pireaus. We decided to take a overnight ferry to Crete, when we got to Crete we rented motorcycles and spent the day touring. That night we boarded the ferry back to Pireaus only to find out that day the US dollar had dropped ~25%, it was always readily excepted but now we couldn't give it away and just had enought Drachmas to get us back to the Base. So we couldn't eat or *drink* and were just wandering around the ship. We came across a (large) family from a small village in Crete that was going to Athens for a wedding(?). They were below decks and they were having a picnic drinking wine, dancing, playing their Bouzoukis. They must have seen us hungrily eyeing their food as we passed, and they invited us over. We ate, drank, and danced into the early AM. I spoke Greek fairly well and had explained what had happened, as we were leaving when the ship docked and thanking them a woman came over with a lunchbag with cheese, olives, bread, fruit, etc. for our trip back to our base. I always remember their kindness.
Regards, Walter

Old Sep 26th, 1999, 07:50 AM
Paul J
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A few years ago on our first trip to Paris we went to a beautiful and lively restaurant. As you know , the seating arrangements can be very close to other people. We were in fact seated at a table with another gentleman. He was extremely handsome and well dressed. He had finished his dinner and was enjoying a bottle of wine. It didn't take us long to strike up a conversation. He offered to have us join him for a glass of wine. Neither my wife nor I really care for wine but being from the US Midwest (Milwaukee area) we do like our beer. It turned out that Luiz was a businessman from Brazil. While we sat and drank beer he ordered more wine. We eventually ordered dinner, ate, and had a few more beers. You "know" when you're comfortable with your surrondings. Luiz' English was very good and he was enjoying this just as much as we were. It turned out that we spent several hours discussing a wide variety of subjects. He was leaving the next day for Brazil but we still commuticate via email. It was and still is one of our fondest memories of Paris..... Paul J
Old Sep 26th, 1999, 08:17 AM
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When we arrived in Paris, my wife's French was non-existant, although she had studied the language for several years. After about 10 days of speaking and hearing French, we found ourselves in a small town train station with 2 hours to wait for the train.

The stationmaster came out and started talking to us. For alomst the entire 2 hours, they talked in French about all sorts of subjects -from French and American politics to the weather in Arizona

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