Ordering Coffee in a Foreign City


In the handful of hours that I’ve been back in Europe (last time was 23 years ago), I’m wandering around in a bit of a daze. Partly it has to do with jet lag, but I’m also trying to catch up with an older version of myself and the things that excited me during my last trips here. 

When I traveled before, I really had no interest in tourist locations or experiences where an English speaking guide would explain to a group of Americans what was important about some historic location or event.

I objected to the idea of travel as some form or Disneyland adventure or spoon-fed attraction. I wasn’t interested in a manufactured experience or photo op. I had no interest in eating a hamburger with a Coke in Paris. 

What I really desired was something authentic, though I couldn’t necessarily tell you what “authentic” meant given that I was actually a tourist who desperately needed others to speak English in order to survive my trip. 

The closest I could figure was that an authentic experience was to do something that locals did away from the tourist sites. I didn’t have much money while I traveled, so I started trying to order coffee and meals in random, local cafes.

The goal was to find a place where there wasn’t a English-version of the menu, where the waiter and I might have to make hand gestures to get my order across, and I would invariably get something completely different than what I thought I ordered. 

Breakfast, German-style

Breakfast, German-style

This time is different. I’m traveling with my family, so the opportunity to see the “sites” and go on a bus tour around the city seems just fine. Part of it is that the authentic part is built-in to the trip. As we are staying with K’s extended family, we get to stay in a local neighborhood and have homecooked meals. We can have a snack at a tourist trap for lunch, because dinner will be at K’s aunt apartment.

I don’t feel the same push anymore for the authentic experience, or at least not on this trip. However, don’t be surprised if I shave my head and fall in with a bunch of monks if I ever go to Nepal. The search of the authentic experience is hard to break.