Take sunscreen. Don’t forget your toothbrush. Have you got your passport? Inoculations are in order if you want to visit country x or y or z.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s all good advice, but travel tips never seem to tell you what you really need to know.
“La madame n’a pas était gentille?” My hostess is mystified. “I do not understand. Madame is always so very polite.”
“Well,” I say. “She pretty much ignored me when I went into her little shop. She had lovely things. I wanted to buy, but …” I shrug.
“May I ask … that is, please do not think I am rude … but, what did you say when you entered the shop?”
What did I say? My turn to be mystified. “Nothing.”
“Ah! C’est ça le problème. You must always greet the salesperson when you enter a shop. Always. To say nothing is…” She raises her hands. “And never,” she says, “touch the fruit. Just tell the owner what you want and they will pick the best ones for you.”
I laughed remembering the time we tried to buy the most delicious looking oranges I had ever seen. “For juice?” the shop attendant had asked.
“No, we want to eat them.”
“Non! Imposible!” She packed a bag of “eating” oranges for us and we forever lamented missing out on those plump oranges from Spain that made our mouths water just looking at them.
And it’s not just with words that you can inadvertently offend.
In Mali, if you gesture for someone to come over using the “waggle one finger in the air” Canadian method you have just invited the person to partake in a compromising act usually performed in a bed. The correct way to ask someone to come over is to hold your hand, palm down, and partially close your fingers into a fist in a repetitive fashion.
But an experience in Turkey was even more embarrassing. We were having a most amazing dessert in a pastry shop. I understood from the waiter’s gestures that he wanted to know if I liked it. I didn’t just like it, I loved it and I wanted to let him know. I held up my hand, forming my thumb and first finger in a circle and holding up the other three fingers. Means “A-One,” right?
Not so. Means a four letter word followed by the word “you.” Wish someone had told me that. Could have avoided getting thrown out into the street.