I'm glad I've been living here long enough that when a man comes running down the street waving his arms yelling "BOMBA!" it's not concerning, he's just asking that I bike down a different block since they're setting off dynamite for construction.Which brought to mind many moments of cultural dissonance traveling in foreign lands. Like my first encounter with a bidet. Or learning the wisdom of wearing a skirt in a land of squat toilets. Or figuring out I wasn't supposed to drink from a finger bowl. Or learning the hard way that a herd of sheep coming at me will NOT go around me.
Please, share your traveling Huh? and Aha! moments... and have any of them found their way into your books?
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Hallie, yes! Bidet, check! Squat toilet, check! Stubborn sheep, check!
I'll also add eating worms and crickets in Mexico City (at the Four Seasons, I must add....), trying 100-year-old eggs and I don't even know what else in Japan (yes, the eggs are Chinese — we were at a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo).
And speaking of Tokyo — learning shoe etiquette — outside shoes left outside door, put on inside shoes. Leave inside shoes at bathroom door, put on inside bathroom shoes... Aaaaaand then reverse!
Oh! And I thought it was amusing that the Berlin hotel where I stayed provided free condoms (as part of an amenity basket) — while the hotel in England I visited next provided a kettle, tea, and biscuits....
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Nothing so exotic . But when I checked in to an otherwise beautiful hotel in Dallas, there was--no light. None. None. No lights.
I was SO exhausted, and SO weary, and so hungry, and I went into the room. hoping for tea and cookies,--and got darkness. I burst into tears. I called the desk. "Can you, sob sob, send up someone with a LAMP?"
Or in a chic little hotel in San Francisco, so adorable. UNTIL I discovered the steam from the showers set off the smoke alarm. Picture it, Reds. Where would a person be, and in what state of dishabille, when you discovered that?
And the first time it happened--what would you do or think? It went though my mind: "I'm WET, right? I'll be okay in a fire." Then I thought better of that, and got out, dripping, and called the front desk. MY SMOKE ALARM IS GOING OFF! I said.
"It's not going off down here" was the reply.
By that time it had stopped.
Until I took another shower.
Thanks for the info about the sheep, though. Good to know.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, yes, the squat toilets and iffy paper therunto. I discovered those while on an archeological dig in the Pyrenees. I wound up buying a roll of plush American toilet paper and carrying it with me for the rest of my sojourn throughout Italy and southern France.
When I went to school in London, the biggest cultural shock was also bathroom related, in that providing central heat to the bathroom seemed optional in so many places.
Here in this country, there was the Arizona hotel - I believe some of my sister Reds have stayed there - with the retro-60s rooms with a sunken tub in the middle of the floor. Not the bathroom floor - the center of the hotel room floor. What the hey? I kept waking up, convinced I was going to walk across the room in the dark and fall in.
When Ross and I went on safari in south eastern Africa, there were huge levels of cultural dissonance, but none so stark as my realization that people living perfectly recognizable lives in area villages - mechanics and teachers and farmers and such - really, truly had to fear for the intrusion of animals like hippos and elephants. I discovered this for myself when, taking a semi-open-air shower one afternoon, I was interrupted by a curious cow elephant who wanted to see what was inside my little enclosure!
Hmm, clearly, all my travel stories ultimately involve bathrooms. Not sure what that says about me.
SUSAN: Wait, wait! I forgot something! When I was speaking at Murder By the Book in Houston, Texas last year, Random House put me up at Hotel Zaza — very chi chi. However, when I went to Google it, out of curiosity, it seems there's a "secret room." And it's not a penthouse suite — more "goth dungeon closet" with a chain holding the bed to the wall, pictures of skulls, and a dirty concrete floor. I'm NOT making this up — see here.
Weird, right? I asked one of the housekeepers about it and she said she didn't know anything.....
RHYS BOWEN: Susan, I am always put at that hotel too. I'll scope out the dreaded dungeon.
The worst thing I encountered there was a life-size photograph of an Afghan tribesman staring at me in my shower. I felt I should shower in a burka.
I've certainly had my share of exotic bathroom experiences. Like the time I forgot to bring a towel to the bathroom down the hall in Florence and it had one of those geysers that fill the room with steam so I had to put on my flimsy summer cotton dress on a soaking wet body and try to dash back to my room without encountering anyone. But as I passed a man I... oh... dropped my underwear and he called me back. Agony!
And the toilet in the depths of the French countryside that was a hole in the ground and when I pulled the chain the water started rising and the door wouldn't open. And another toilet in the Australian bush where a huge hairy Huntsman spider came to sit on the door, a few inches from the latch.
There is something to be said for the Hilton after all!
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Julia, Rhys, Susan, have stayed at the Arizona hotel many times, but because I usually share a room with my AZ friend, I've never had the tub in the middle of the room. What am I missing???
And the ZaZa in Houston. Arggh. I am usually at the Intercontinental but asked to stay at the ZaZa once because I was curious. After that I went happily back to the boring Intercontinental....
Bathrooms...apparently the ultimate travel experience. I had every bad bathroom possible as a child on many trips from Dallas to Mexico City on the old Pan American highway. Holes in the ground, shacks with burros peering in the door, you name it. There were also some lovely old hotels and resorts on that road--wonder if they are gone now? First experience with a bidet on my first trip to France. My mother liked them so much she had one put in when they built a new house. Wonder what the builder thought?
But I have only once had to use a chamber pot, and that was at a B&B somewhere in England--Northumberland, maybe? I was not impressed.
LUCY BURDETTE: Bathrooms here too...probably 15 years ago we went to the Dominican Republic for a week to help build a Haitian hospital. First day we were taken to a church service out in the country, in a very poor village. I tried not to have to use the facilities, but nature won out. I had to climb steps to the pit toilet in the middle of the huts...I still shudder at that memory...
In Japan, not nearly so rustic, but they did label toilets "Eastern" and "Western." I learned quickly that the lines were much much shorter if you were willing to go Eastern. I was:)
HALLIE: Oh, the toilets! It's why we travel thought, isn't it? To experience new things?
Please share your travel "learning" experiences... can't wait to hear.