Why do Asian countries limit the amount of children their citizens can have? To make room for all the photo albums.*
*This joke has been approved by an actual camera-toting Asian tourist who laughed just as hard as the rest of us** at the compulsive photojournalism displayed by EVERY cluster of Asians we encountered in Europe.
**And by “the rest of us” I mean the U.N. microcosm my friends and I made as we toured Europe last week. There were four of us: a black guy, a white guy (I was the white guy!), an Asian woman and a Hispanic woman. Or, to be slavishly PC about it: An African-American male (who was born in Guam), a Norwegian-German-Swedish-American male (who was born in Iowa), a Filipino-American woman (who was actually born in Manila) and a Mexican woman who is in the process of being nationalized as an American.
But in the shorthand of friendly familiarity—and because we all see PC nomenclature as a silly load of crap—we ended up calling each other, simply, the black guy, the white guy (I was the white guy!), the Asian and the Mexican. And we never missed an opportunity to make fun of the stereotypes that go with those labels. (I, as a white Northern European mutt, didn’t have much to offer in the way of mockable stereotypes, so I made sure to let my friends know they could always make fun of my Homosexual-Americanness and my people’s proud legacy of oppressing their peoples.)
And our endless conversations about how the Mexicans take all the good jobs away from the blacks and how the Asians never lose people in their tour groups because they’re so good at counting raised quite a few Parisian and Madridian eyebrows.
But then those Europeans can be so freakin’ judgmental.
Shopping in Paris is hard. At least in the department stores. See, once you find what you want and try it on, you have to take it back to the people from the department where you found it so they can take off the tags and write up a paper receipt for you. You repeat this process in every department where you find something you want to buy. Then you take the handwritten receipts (and sometimes your merchandise, but sometimes they want you to come back and pick it up after you’ve paid for it) to the cashier station (called la caisse) so the cashier can transform your handwritten receipts into one electronic receipt and then take your money. Mon dieu!
BUT NOT ALWAYS. Because if you see something else you like when you’re heading off to la caisse with your handwritten receipts and you decide to buy it, the clerks in that department will sometimes want you to just add it on your pile and have the cashier do the two-step receipt herself. But the trick is THERE IS NO SYSTEM FOR YOU AS THE CONSUMER TO FIGURE THIS OUT. To the clerks, you’re just the retarded American who is so arrogantly out of touch with European customs that you deserve to be mocked when all you really want is to buy a couple shirts from a couple different departments that issued you separate handwritten receipts for your merchandise EVEN THOUGH THE DEPARTMENTS WERE NO MORE THAN A FEW FEET FROM EACH OTHER.
So, to recap:
1. Find clothes in department store.
2. Try them on.
3. Take clothes back to department where you found them.
4. Get a handwritten receipt.
5. Or just go right to the checkout.
6. But don’t ask what you should do because the clerks will just look at you funny and pretend they don’t speak English.
7. Take clothes and optional handwritten receipt to la caisse so you can
8. Blog about how confusing it is.
AND SPEAKING OF SHOPPING …
Do you know how hard it is to find trendy clothing in Europe with foreign writing on it? (How am I supposed to demonstrate my cultural superiority over my fellow Americans when I show up in European fashions covered in ENGLISH?) And the trendier the European store, it seems, the more mundane the English writing it offers.
To wit: There’s this foo-foo men’s clothing chain in France called celio* (with an asterisk! because when you flout capitalization and punctuation rules, you’re proving to the world that you’re edgy!) that offers a clothing line that’s kind of the love child of FCUK and the Gap. The clothes are cool-looking and suitably European in their fashion attitude
AND SPEAKING OF ENGLISH …
This is just an observation, but I find it kind of ironic that the people who are the potentially least educated in multiple languages—fast-food employees, souvenir-store clerks, cabbies, etc.—end up handling the bulk of the communication with foreign tourists who are in town just to eat, see the sights, collect a few mementos and yell things like “Do you accept credit cards? You know: Cre. Dit. Cards!”
THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE
No, it’s not love. Or spanking. Or mime. (Not even in France.) The universal language, as Matt and I so clearly learned one night in a French gay bar, is SHOW TUNES.
See, we were sitting at this trendy video bar a few doors down from our hotel in the Marias. But since Matt and I have all the opportunistic timing of a trailer-park ovary, we decided to go to this bar on the one night that NOBODY else wanted to go there. So we’re sitting there chatting away, enjoying our unobstructed view of the video screens and wondering where all the French hotties went when a dance mix came on that sounded kind of familiar. The bartenders and their minute gaggle of friends immediately started singing along with it—in French—at the top of their smoky lungs. But we still couldn’t figure out what the song was.
But when the second chorus kicked in—in English—we knew EXACTLY what the song was, and we excitedly jumped in at the top of our lungs as well. And I, being the biggest queen in the bar, added my own harmonies.
And for a few glorious moments, in a mostly deserted bar on a not-so-quiet little street just up from the Hotel de Ville, a roomful of homos shared a universal message of love and hair and a burning need for sunglasses:
Lehhhhhhhht the suuun shiiiiiine!
Lehhhhhhhht the sun shine in!
The su-uuuuuuun shine in!