Given how many “interesting” places I have found myself I thought I would provide a couple of survival tips for anyone who may at some point find themselves in a strange environment.
Well first of course it will not be strange to the people who live there to them it is normal. Just like my drinking buddies down at the Metro just because you don’t do it at home does not mean it’s weird it just means it’s different.
Ok #1 McDonalds have clean toilets. This may at some point become a critical piece of information and even if you don’t subscribe to their culinary items the toilets can be a god send when you find yourself in exotic places. If you are concerned about the state of that public squat or are a little shy about going behind the bushes then whenever you see this burger joint you have an oasis. Many European countries have laws for eating establishments requiring rest rooms. I am however not convinced they have regulations about the hygiene standards in them. So don’t be shy you can walk in and if you feel guilty then buy a coke. Try not to use a $100 bill for a $1 purchase though (in any currency) it tends to draw attention to you. So you can consider McDonalds which you can find in almost all countries as your home from home and a comfort whatever country you find yourself in. Starbucks also works but is not as big a brand so you don’t find as many around.
#2 The general consensus is when travelling you should try to learn a bit of the language. Fine no problem with that except if you walk into a restaurant and fluently ask for a table for two you might end up in a place with strange food and no translation (see blog on “What do you recommend”). My process is to make sure I say something loud in English as an opener “nice place” “cool” “this is interesting” what this does is to alert your host that you are one of those “Johnny foreigners”. You can then do your party piece asking for a table. You have established your identity and this normally gets you the only waiter who speaks English and maybe their only translated menu. You don’t want to end up with a liver and kidney sausage do you?. Judi will actually get them to bring the menu before she will take a table although secretly I think she is checking they have chocolate mousse before she approves.
#3 It’s ok to point. I find that a “Point and Pay” approach works fine everywhere. Remember you are a customer and where ever you are in the world there will be lots of people who will be happy to accept you money. Normally I like to see the price of things which of course helps but sometimes things are not labeled. My mother had a saying “If it’s not got a price on you probably can’t afford it” which is apt as I tried to buy a shredder yesterday no price, when they rang it up it was 7,545 rubles ($240) I of course said “nyet”. It would be cheaper for me to hire someone for a couple of hours a month to tear up my stuff. $240 you have to be kidding me. Having an idea of the price save you from using that $100 bill on the $1 item as well.
#4 haggling is like playing Poker you need to know what you are doing or you will get creamed. I can do it but to be honest if the item is less than $5 you could end up spending 20 minutes shaving 10 cents off it and why bother unless you have lots of time or a cruel streak. For larger items you could use Judi’s approach which is to decide what you are going to pay and stick to it. There is no meeting in the middle with my darling babe its clear “my price or nothing” for her. Happy to walk away and have people rushing after her trying that one more time. I have tried to introduce the concept of “negotiation” the response is “fine I am going to negotiate them to my price”. She has some steel in her which at times has served us well. We go a wheelie suitcase in Chang Mai for $10 and we have had it now for about 8 years and it has been around the world a few times now. Now I cannot believe we actually got it given the starting price was $50 but the guy still must have made a profit as they will never settle for a loss.
Just a couple of things you might want to remember next time you find yourself somewhere “in-tir-yes-nih”