My friend, Tina's dad is Greek. He used to live in the US but then, for one reason or another, he went back to the homeland. She wasn't too broken up about it though. Because who in their right mind would be broken up about always having a place to stay in Greece? And for always having this place to stay abroad, I used to envy her. By the time we'd actually become friends, she'd already flown over there to see him a couple of times and, never having traveled overseas myself, I used to ask her tons of questions about what Europe was like.
“It's just a more laid-back lifestyle.”
“Yeah. But what do you mean by that?”
“It's like... Okay. So imagine you have some letters that you have to mail. Or, better yet, postcards. Like if you're on vacation or something.”
“And let's say that you take them to the post office. And maybe there's even no line. No line to stand in, I mean.”
“And let's say that there's a guy sitting behind the counter reading a newspaper.”
“So what do you do?”
“Easy. You say, 'Hey, homes. I need to mail these here fucking postcards like snap. And why don't ya gimmie some of your foreign stamps while you're at it.”
“Alright, alright. 'Please, sir, may I mail these here postcards.'”
“'Please, may I mail them 'cause they're like for my family and shit.'”
“Alright. Then why don't you tell me.”
“I'm going to! The correct answer is; you don't do any of that. You just stand there and leave the guy to his newspaper and his cappuccino or you can come back later.”
“Oh yeah? Well, what gives?”
“Well, because he's obviously on his break.”
“Now, that's fuckin' stupid. So you're trying to tell me that they don't have breakrooms in Europe? Because that doesn't sound very laid-back.”
“I don't know. They may not. But I do know one thing. If you so much as clear your throat in attempts to get this post office guy's attention; you will regret it.”
“He'll get all pissed off?”
“Sooo pissed off. He'll come right around the counter and point a finger at you and yell right in your face.”
“Seriously? You don't know that.”
“I do know. Because that's exactly what happened to me.”
“Oh my God. What a dick! What a high-strung dick! And this is your way of trying to explain to me how chillax Europeans are?”
“It's just their custom or whatever and, when you go over there, you're already expected to know this stuff. And, if you really think about it, maybe we're the high-strung ones. I mean, maybe we're the ones that have to have everything at the snap of our fingers.”
“Yeah, but can't they see... I mean, can't they easily tell the we have 'American' written all over our face over there?”
“That probably doesn't help matters.”
“That...is true. Whelp, this has been fascinating.”
“Well, I'm glad. But I hope it doesn't discourage you from going there someday.”
“Oh, no. Don't even worry about that shit. I still wanna go. I just have to save up a little bit of money first. Not all of us have parents over there we can stay with, ya know.”
And I did go to Europe...about a year later. And saving the money seemed sort of easy even...I guess because I just wanted it that badly. My best friend and his girl (Tim and Theresa) and I simply made a pact with each other. We said that we'd each have enough money saved to buy a plane ticket come October and, sure enough, each of us did. And so we planned a trip.
What we planned wasn't anything that over the top; just a basic, 2 week introduction to Western Europe type thing. It would be just the three of us and we'd be pretty much winging it the whole way. And thanks to Tim and Theresa being the chronic potheads that they were; our first few days were to be spent in Amsterdam where they hoped to stock up on enough dope to send back home to themselves...enough to last them through a nuclear winter. And I had no problem with this, of course, despite the fact that I didn't really smoke that much pot anymore. But, as the old proverb goes; when in Amsterdam, just fucking smoke it. That, and I was just so thrilled to be out of the country that it didn't really matter where we went first or where we went at all. So I just sort of let those two lead the way which was actually a pretty good idea since, at the age of 24, I was still really bad with both directions and planning things.
Figuring we'd be all distraught after landing, Tim booked a hotel for the first night. And, shortly after arriving there and stopping in just long enough to deposit our bags, we headed right back out the door again and caught a bus towards the city center. It was around midmorning.
Amsterdam was more amazing than I ever thought it could be. It was beautiful and cozy feeling like a mountain town despite the gargantuan squares and cathedrals scattered about everywhere. And everything about this experience was just so new and weird to us right down to that strange sounding Dutch language emanating from the overhead speakers right on the bus. Right down to the very names of the streets themselves! And we were the typical tourists; I just didn't realize it at the time. Like...at the first place we stopped in, a quaint looking bar dubbed “The Pink Floyd”; I asked right away if I could take a picture of all the different varieties of weed for sale right up there in the front of this establishment in a glass display case. To which the guy behind the counter respectfully and mild-manneredly replied, “We...prefer it if you don't.”
“That's cool, man. That's why I asked.” And I actually did feel like the gracious guest assuming that the majority of foreigners who'd come before me had simply snapped off a shot without first acquiring the proper permission.
And there we sat ourselves in this bar for a while doing bong rip after bong rip and listening to a live recording of Pearl Jam playing over a really hi-def sound system. When it came time to get out of there, though, and we were walking down the street again...good and baked out of our minds; a cop car sped up behind us and, almost instinctively, I felt like we were about to get arrested. It just passed us by though. Of course, it did. Fucked up as I was and in that tiny bit of time since we'd left the bar, I'd somehow forgotten that weed was perfectly legal here and we had nothing to worry about. And onward that cop car did go. And even it emitted that siren so unlike ours. So alien and weird to American ears...like something we only knew from the movies.
The three of us spent the day wandering around like this. We did hit up the Rijksmuseum and it was fun. But we also considered this to be enough culture for one day and proceeded to hit the pubs again thereafter. And it was somewhere around dusk when we finally made our way into...I believe it was The Bulldog. And this was one of the more famous cafes around town; one that, upstairs, also functioned as a hostel. Not that any of that mattered to us. It was simply another place to get another beer and for Tim to roll up another joint for us to pass around the table. The only problem with this plan, and he realized this shortly after we sat down, was that he'd already used up all his rolling papers. But no big deal. It's not like we weren't in a hash bar or anything. So Tim stands up and makes his way over to the front counter where there's a guy behind a cash register who happens to be eating a plate of food underneath the dim lighting that seemed to be just the normal atmosphere of this place. And he says to the guy...
“Hey, man. Can I get a pack of rolling papers?”
And knowing Tim, he probably even said, “Please.”
And Theresa and I are watching this go down from our table about ten feet away...and we have a perfect view.
So the guy behind the counter looks up at him; fork still in hand and mouth half full of what looked to be Swedish meatballs and egg noodles. And this guy is like this skinhead looking dude with fierce, blue eyes and a stern, chiseled nose. And then in the thickest Scottish accent that I'd ever heard in my life; an accent so thick that my dad would have needed subtitles just to understand it...the guy burst out with these words like a blast of hot air, “Can't you see?! I'm eatin' me fuckin' dinner!”
And the guy, after making such an eruption, continues to look exasperated that Tim had dared to even talk to him.
And Tim, after receiving the heat of this explosion, now wore an appealing look on his face as if to say, “What? What the fuck did I do?”
And then we left. Almost instinctively, Theresa and I each left some money on the table and the three of us got the fuck out of there not wanting to cause any more of a commotion than we somehow already had.
“What the fuck did I do?!” Tim asked out loud this time once we got outside.
“I don't know, man. I heard if they're eating or something then they're like on break or some shit.”
“That's what I heard. Not that I really truly believed it until now.”
“But like...does the whole place shut down just so that asshole can eat his fucking dinner?!”
“I don't know. Live and learn, I guess. For all of us. I mean, this has been a learning experience for all of us. From now on, we know.”
“Yeah, but...! Yeah,” and Tim's brain had become exhausted in a matter minutes. His ability to want to even try to comprehend this was either defeated or indifferent now (I couldn't tell which).
“It just is what it is,” I said in a continued attempt to help smooth things over...not that I had any sympathy for the Scottish fuck.
“Yeah, I never really got that saying.”
“Neither did I. It just sounded like it might fit. How about, 'Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar'? Can I use that one now? Are we close enough to Austria to where it won't sound like such a meaningless cliché?”
“Yeah, I guess. I guess, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But sometimes a dick is still just a dick.”
All in all though (at least from what I perceived throughout the rest of our trip); I felt like we were less obnoxious than most other Americans we came into close contact with. If that situation at The Bulldog had even been our fault. But who's to say? Needless to say though; we were all pretty much a little intimidated by the rest of the food servers we encountered no matter which country we happened to be in from there on out.
But there was this one guy who stuck out in my mind. Not a European waiter, I mean. But another American. The three of us were near the top of the Eiffel Tower and this huge, fat dude exclaims in the thickest Texan accent I'd ever heard, “Man, this thing sure is big!” And that's pretty dickish too...when ya think about it.