I don’t know about you, but I got into the Bucket-Lister business for the perks. Trying new things, traveling the world, and immersing myself in cultures most tourists don’t have time for. The pay isn’t great, but you can’t beat these benefits.
And I was a natural. I avoided food poisoning from meals that roamed around on the table, filled a passport or three with colorful stamps, and maintained a respectable frequent-flyer status.
I even mastered the international Bucket-Lister language. Initially, communication was mostly an intricate series of hand and arm signals that would make any Air Traffic Controller proud. It wasn’t pretty, but I could get a taxi, directions to a restaurant (usually not the one I was hoping for), and a hotel room. However, fluency evaded me until I discovered the real Rosetta Stone. With this handy tool, I rarely had to resort to embarrassing peeks at Google Translate, or flail like a duckling trying to find its momma in order to get my message across.
What is the Bucket-Lister’s Rosetta Stone?
An open wallet.
Yes, I’ve found that a decent command of the English language, and an open wallet, turns busy venders into polite guides, and confused waiters into helpful sommeliers. It’s like magic. You’re welcome.
Reaching the Inner Circle
While the open wallet trick works great for most transactional relationships, I’ve learned that it’s not as effective when trying to make new friends. If I wanted to shed the stigma of arrogant tourist, to reach that inner circle, where locals start to unveil the good stuff, I would have to use my words. Unfortunately, my words are usually the wrong words…
In a not-distant-enough-for-embarrassment-to-fade past, Monica and I were invited to dinner with several new people in Bucharest. I’m not a big fan of meeting new people in groups, but this represented an exciting opportunity. I brushed up on Romanian survival phrases, grilled Monica on any unusual rules of etiquette I might need to know, and donned my best hoodie. This time I was going to make a lasting impression. I wanted to be more than the American with a cute accent.
I made it through introductions (“Salut” and handshakes for men, “Buna seara” and double-cheek kisses for women), but not much further. The conversation buzzed by in a confusing blend of French, Italian, Romanian, and English. I was a monoglot in a polyglot’s world.
The wine couldn’t arrive fast enough. Anxious to make some sort of contribution, I raised my glass with a hearty “Prost!” (this was about all the German I knew), which was meet with stony stares. Monica leaned in and whispered “Prost means stupid in Romanian.”
I tried again with “Salut!” and Monica leaned in to remind me that this was “hello.”
I couldn’t remember how to say “cheers” in Romanian, and was too proud to resort to English. My treacherous brain wouldn’t help me recall the Romanian I studied a few hours earlier. Instead, I was transported back to college, slumped over a nearly empty box of Matilda Bay wine with my Tanzanian roommate Ibada. He held up his Dixie cup, leaned off to the side, and shouted “Jamba!”
Surely, everyone would be impressed that I knew Swahili, and it was unlikely that “Jamba” had an offensive Romanian translation.
Phones lit up and I recognized the all-to-familiar Google Translate app. There were a few chuckles. Monica showed me her phone. Apparently, Jamba means “fart” in Swahili.
Some magnanimous soul raised his glass and echoed, “Jamba!” The tension vanished, and I focused on using my mouth for drinking rather than forming more inappropriate words.
Monica whispered after we drained our glasses, “Next time, just say Noroc.”