There’s nothing quite like tromping through the streets of Paris fresh out of the airport, wearing socks with your Chacos and lugging around a giant orange backpack, to make you feel like an utter idiot. With my shirt sticking to my sweaty back, my companions and I stepped out of the Metro into the bright light of Place de la République. Thankfully, as our senses of direction were completely bamboozled, a surprisingly friendly French girl stopped within 30 seconds of us looking wide-eyed and stupid to volunteer her help. Within ten minutes we arrived at our Airbnb.
And so began my two month long trip of traveling through Europe, which thus far has featured a multitude of equally awkward, humiliating, and stupid moments. Currently I still have 41 more days to look like an American fool, so I’m sure there are many more in store.
These incidents, which can be as nondescript as my fashionable socks with Chacos choice in Paris or as obvious as getting escorted off the bus by public transit authorities in Vienna and threatened with a 103 euro fine because you lost your ticket (don’t worry, we looked so poor the authorities took pity on our patheticness and let us slide), are moments where the best thing you can do is embrace the fact that you are ignorant and an amateur, and you’re just gonna have to rely on others for a while.
While I’ve been traveling throughout Europe thus far, I constantly feel this pressure to disguise the fact that I’m pretty much a walking stereotype: American girl fresh out of undergrad going around Europe for the first time in her life, looking for adventure and pretty photos. I’m fairly helpless; I can’t speak any other languages, have little to no knowledge of the layout of the cities I’m visiting, and have quickly become painfully aware of my own abysmal grasp of European history. I try to snap sneaky photos of various sights that amaze me, trying to conceal the fact that I’m a tourist like it’s shameful, and cringe every time I’m forced to butcher the name of a local place because I have no idea how to pronounce Hungarian or French or German.
I wish I could be that suave expert, that smooth-talking easily-blending-in globetrekker that sails through country after country enjoying the locals respect along the way. I think I enjoy their amusement, their sympathy, and thankfully, their sweet benevolence. Although I’m clearly and obviously an amateur just figuring out how to spread her global wings, it’s beautiful the kindness and patience I encounter among the people of every country I travel too. While it may be humiliating to get stared down with the evil eye by the staff worker at the Vienna State Opera for sitting on a rail I shouldn’t be, that same worker is the one that helps me find the bathroom, passes out fans to the overheated audience, and enduringly spends night after night corralling and aiding all the tourists that funnel into the gallery starry eyed and bumping into one another. Being an amateur makes me feel like a child; I have to be told the rules, have to accept correction when I ignorantly err, and I have to rely on those around me.
The beautiful thing about being a helpless and bumbling amateur though, is that I get to experience amazing amounts of generosity, hospitality, patience, and altruism. Being weak and requiring help is a difficult state for my pride to swallow, but it creates so many opportunities to experience the goodness of humanity.
The awesome thing about being an amateur is how you are taken under the wing of experts. The spectacular thing about being needing is witnessing all the people who constantly surprise you by how they warmly step in to fix that need.