As far as I'm concerned, and keep in mind I regard myself as an expert in this field, there is nothing that gives you as many opportunities for feeling like a doofus as international travel.
Itâ€™s not so much the actual traveling. I have no problem with airports. The thing about airports is that they're designed for people who don't know what they're doing. Smart people spend a lot of time figuring out ways to get stupid people to their planes and luggage. Train stations -- same thing. There are lots of maps and timetables to lead travelers to where they want to go.
No, what gets me about traveling are the little things -- like picking out a flavor of gum. You don't find Juicy Fruit in Norway. When you're as cheap as I am, ending up with a pack of licorice and menthol cough drops when you think you're getting spearmint bubble gum is kind of a tragedy. It took me a whole day to choke down all the cough drops. I may not have had a sore throat when I was done, but I was a little sick to my stomach.
And my breath smelled funny.
Gas stations are another issue. When I'm on the road in America, I get most of my meals in gas stations, but that becomes a bigger deal when you don't really know what they're selling. In a restaurant, a real one, the wait staff is usually able to speak some version of English and when you ask pointed questions, you can just pretend you're a gourmet -- you're not stupid, just particular. On the other hand, when you're trying to pick up some food in a gas station and the sign above the counter says "SKINK" is on sale for 40 kroners, there are several problems.
First of all, my understanding is that a skink is a prairie lizard. It seemed like an odd thing to have on the menu, and I wasn't really comfortable taking a chance on it. Besides, I wasn't completely sure how big a bargain skink at 40 Kroners was. I usually ended up going with the bacon-wrapped, foot-long hot dogs. Almost a perfect food, when you think about it.
And food related gas station issues paled in comparison to the fact that I didn't know how to pump gas. I've been putting fuel in vehicles for about 40 years now, so I never expected it to be a problem, but with four kinds of fuel to choose from and six lines of instruction on how to use the pump and pay for the gas, I was a little tense. Particularly when the signs in Norwegian have exclamation marks. I like to pay attention to exclamation marks when I'm working near stuff that can explode.
And that was before I discovered the rental car didn't have a gas cap. There was a little DOOR on the side of the car that should have had a gas cap underneath it, but when I opened the door, all I saw was a shiny round piece of metal. It's hard to look like a sophisticated international traveler when you're not smart enough to figure out how to get gas in a car. My wife was the one who discovered that it was spring-loaded, so you just shoved the gas nozzle through it.
Restrooms are another situation where I vote for international uniformity. The little blue signs that show one stick figure wearing trousers and one wearing a skirt -- I'm all for that. "Men" and "Women" is probably okay too, no matter what language they're in. But think of restaurants where somebody got clever and put "Chicks" and "Roosters" or "Cowboys" and "Cowgirls." Try that in a foreign language and you've got a problem brewing, because it is my opinion that when you're trying to find the men's room you want to get it right the first time.