Thursday, November 13, 2008

The displaced traveler

Mark Twain is so amusing on the subject of European travel, culture, and manners, it's hard for me not to quote him constantly. Indeed, few travel guidebooks are able to resist this temptation. A special favorite is Twain's witty, ironic observation:

"The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad."

But the even wittier line that follows, I've noticed, is often omitted from these guidebooks:

"I speak now, of course, in the supposition that the gentle reader has not been abroad, and therefore is not already a consummate ass."

There's only so much the gentle reader of a travel book can take, I guess, is what they conclude. No need to be so blunt about it. Any observant fellow will figure this out himself, reading the faces of family and friends back home, as he tries to tell them he has trouble with English now or dreams in French or just can't stand the horribly inefficient train system anymore. Soon enough, he'll likely feel just as lame as he did ordering wine with his pizza or forgetting which cheek to kiss first or how to say "the check, please" in German. Let him plan his vacation in peace.

But, might I add, heaven help the friends and family of the unobservant fellow.

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