April 17 2009 by Sam Lowe
Nothing throws a wet blanket over a trip faster than discourteous companions. They're rude, inconsiderate, embarrassing and completely unconcerned about the distress they dump on others. Over the years, I have encountered many of them, but two were unforgettable.
At a restaurant in Munich, an elderly female co-traveler asked a waiter for a glass of water. Since most restaurants in Germany serve bubbly mineral water instead of plain water, he brought her a glass of that. She loudly proclaimed, in English, that she wanted just plain water, not soda water, and ordered him to make the change. He brought her another glass of bubbling water, sat it in front of her and said, in German, "Wasser."
"No! No!" she exploded. "Not wasser! I want water!" The waiter removed the second glass, then returned with another, also filled with mineral water. Infuriated, the woman ripped off her wig, threw it on the table and shouted, "When are you people ever going to learn to speak English so you can understand us?!!"
The rest of us pretended we didn't know her but it was difficult. She was sitting at our table.
At the time of my visit to the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum in Xian, China, photography was not allowed inside the huge steel building that covered the excavations. The ban, since lifted, was strictly enforced. Signs printed in multiple languages warned visitors not to take pictures, and security guards patrolled the area watching for violators.
This did not deter one member of our group. He proclaimed that since he'd never get back to Xian, he should be allowed to take photos. We noted that they sold color slides and photos in the gift shop; he retorted that they were not the high quality he wanted. So he pointed his camera and began snapping.
Immediately, a guard approached and pointed to the signs. The man ignored him and continued shooting. The guard touched his arm; the man grew belligerent and spewed a familiar Anglo term that means "go away." The guard didn't go away. Instead, he grabbed the camera, opened the back and unrolled the film. Furious, the man screamed, cursed and grabbed for his camera. But the guard put it in his pocket and walked away.
The man angrily demanded that we help him. There was nothing we could do except point to the signs and shrug.
The moral: Read the signs, obey the signs, and don't be an ugly American.