Monday, 10 June 2013

Just say 'non'

So, we went on holiday to a big country near us. It's not too difficult to work out, but I don't want to appear in Google searches, so you're going to have to read between the lines.

I had long had very mixed feelings towards this particular place. This was largely because of the exchange program my school ran. Between my older siblings and one of my parents being a teacher, we had about four exchangees staying with us. One was nice. The others weren't.

But everyone else who has been raved about the food and the culture, so we decided it was an easy destination for our first lengthy foray with the Boy.

My feelings still remain very mixed.

On the one hand, it was easy, and the wine was cheap.

On the other hand, well...

Everything was shut at odd times. Not just for the famously lengthy lunchtimes, but for Mondays, Sundays, and other, random times. Everyone seemed to keep different lunch times to, so you couldn't be reliably sure of anything being open between about 12pm and 3.30pm. It seemed like an extreme length to go to, to make it easy to philander. We pondered if prostitutes charged more at lunchtime or also took the time off.

Most things veered between being expensive to being an overt ripoff. We paid six euros fifty each for a croque monsieur in a place that looked like a restaurant but only served patrons for glorified cheese toasties while the staff tucked into vastly more interesting food at the next table. Yeah, they saw us coming.

I wouldn't say everyone was rude. But, there seemed to be quite a high percentage of very rude people, compared to other places we've visited. Like an entire bus shelter of about 30 people who watched us standing next to the bus stop, got up when the bus appeared, and shoved in front of us. One little shit of a schoolboy actually stood in front of us and waved other people ahead.

And my personal favourite, the driver who got out, opened the boot of the bus, watched my husband struggling to load our bags and a pushchair (I'd gone onto the bus with the Boy), and then started clapping to hurry him up.

Oh, and then there was the cleaning. Usually, when we've self catered before, the drill is that you do a normal weekly clean before you leave - a quick dust, floors, bathroom, tidy up any mess, and a paid cleaner, covered by the cost of your fees, cleans anything else. Here, one place gave us a four page checklist, which included commands like emptying the hoover and polishing the windows. We spent half a day of precious holiday time on this.

 On websites where I've seen similar criticisms levelled, there have been apologists saying "Oh, that's just the capital". Or "You should have made more effort to speak the language".

But we weren't in the capital, we visited two different places for a week each (in actual fact, when we did visit the capital found people there were more helpful and it certainly wasn't any more expensive).

And, while I'm not fluent in the language, I did study it for several years and always had a go at speaking it, trying to get the verbs endings right and so on. Mostly, this was the only method of communicating with people, which is fine, although slightly puzzling if the person I was chatting to worked in a tourist information in a busy resort town full of English speaking foreign tourists.

I know I wasn't completely unintelligible as I could get the point across. But  if the person I was speaking to was apparently the descendent of a collaborator who coped with their family's shame by holding Gestapo-style attitudes towards grammar, then it became difficult.

I nearly forgot the toilets. In any public toilet, restaurant toilet, or toilet in a visitor attraction, there was no seat. I thought someone was going around removing them until we realised they had probably never been installed. I mean, why? Why?  This is a nation that prides itself on being sophisticated.

Worse, there was usually one or two unisex cubicles. Which wouldn't be so bad, but sometimes there would be a urinal that you had to walk past to get to the cubicle. Quite a few times, I was trying to go as quickly as I possibly could, to avoid the horrendous embarrassment of exiting the toilet and finding a stranger urinating within a couple of feet of me in plain sight (An etiquette dilemma from hell. Do you acknowledge them in a breezy continental manner or go all British and prudish and pretend the man with his willie out doesn't exist?)

So next time, we're going back to places where people actually quite like visitors, everything isn't so expensive, and a smaller percentage of the people are arseholes. I even dislike that I found so much cause to complain, like I was somehow morphing into a whinging parochial for not embracing the queue jumping and the bizarrely primitive toilets as some sort of enriching cultural experience.

I expect they won't give a fuck as there's enough local tourists, plus foreigners who incomprehensibly return year after year, as well as people like us who believe the hype enough to be sucked in once. But hey, I can live with that as long as I never return.

I'm never paying for the Boy to do exchange trips there, either.


  1. Sorry for such a yucky trip. I went there once years and years ago when some friends were there on exchange. I thankfully had my friend as interpreter and their place to crash at. It was a fun trip, but maybe it was better because I was younger and had no expectations what-so-ever as it was not on my list of must visit.

    1. It wasn't a bad visit, exactly - I just thought we could had a better time elsewhere for the same price.

      I was pondering if I felt like this just because holidays are more difficult with kids and you can't just do whatever you want. But I don't think so!

  2. I've only been to the capital so I can't talk for the other areas, but I agree that the people in the capital were pretty helpful if not a little annoyed by my sorry attempts to speak the language, but they did switch to English. I do remember the toilet seats, and I agree ... why?

    1. I wonder why the capital has such a bad reputation when people aren't as bad as all that (at least, not from the point of view of a city dweller).