I’m certainly not shy when it comes to calling out bad travelers. What follows is a section from an early draft of Vagabonding with Kids: Spain. This took place at a flamenco show:
Also, you should not read this if you have sensitivity to language.
Because it’s about fucking assholes.
A large family, perhaps ten people, were seated at a table next to us; our two tables shared a bench along one wall. A boy in their party, about twelve years old, seated himself right next to me on the bench, so close that our sides touched. I’m not sure how one can be unaware that one’s body is pressing upon a stranger’s, but this boy seemed oblivious. As Americans are very protective of the bubble of space around them, I was surprised to then hear them speaking English in what was clearly an American accent. The waiter approached their table with pen and paper in hand and said in English, “Something to drink?”
They looked at him dumbly.
“Would you like something to drink?” the waiter tried again.
“Well, what are the choices?” the patriarch demanded irritably. And I reminded myself that it’s not good to hate people.
“Beer, wine, sangria, Fanta,” said the waiter.
“What kind of beer do you have? Do you have Corona?”
I gritted my teeth as they went around the table with their drink orders. The father’s face held a permanent sneer.
“And you’re going to bring water for everyone, right?” he asked.
The waiter looked confused.
“Water. Wa-ter! You’re going to bring wa-ter for everyone, yes?”
The waiter understood then and nodded. “Yes, sure.”
Let’s give this asshole the benefit of the doubt and say he researched this particular establishment to verify they had English-speaking waiters. Let’s give him that, and not go with the far more likely scenario that he just tromps around other countries with his gigantic family demanding everyone address him in English and serve him Corona. But even if that were the case, how fucking hard is it to say, “agua”? Because I’m pretty damn sure that even if you don’t speak Spanish, you’re familiar with the Spanish word for water, which is agua. And if you’re not, then you’ve probably been living under a rock and you should go back beneath your rock instead of inflicting your arrogant self on the rest of the world. The group would go on to laugh during the performance and withhold applause during the breaks.
Despite my best efforts, I fucking hated those assholes.
* * *
It’s a lot of fun to highlight the bad behavior of others, but to be completely honest, I’ve been the asshole. Before we had children, we spent two years working in movies and television at film sites around the world. It sounds like a dream job, and for some it is. For me, not so much.
Looking back on that time, I can clearly see that I Did Not Play Well With Others. I was uncomfortable with my role, my situation, and the incredibly inflated egos often (but not always) present in the entertainment industry. Don’t get me wrong, there were wonderful people involved with these projects and I made a few lifelong friends. But there were others, too.
I did not handle the combination of youth, insecurity, a sense of displacement, and epic personality clashes well. At all. I became the worst version of myself. I was the asshole.
But I don’t regret that time. You have to fail. You have to have the experiences and learn from them. Otherwise you run the risk of being the asshole at the flamenco show. I don’t ever want to be that guy.
When I travel now, I try to do so with gratitude and grace. I still have my small failures, but at least they are rooted in kindness.
When I travel now, I only take the best of me.