Imagine logging into an old laptop and finding a draft of a blog post that was never published. Here is a post that is 6 months old….
As has been my custom for the past three years, I was selected and accepted to speak at the Microsoft Certified Trainer Summit. This year the even was held in Prague. I had never been to Prague before and was quite excited. The thing that bothered me, though, was that it was Eastern Europe in the Winter ( it was the same thing the previous year the summit having been held in Berlin, but…) and there were a ton of other personal matters going on at the time. As I write this, I am on the train trying to figure out which station I am supposed to exit.
I am now in the airport. It was an adventure to attempt to get to my hotel. I scantly believe it myself:
While on the train I look at the map to make sure I’m going in the right direction and that I haven’t missed my stop. I call the hotel to verify the stop as Courcelles. The front desk/concierge says, "Yes, that is correct." I look at the map and I see a "Courcelles de Remy", and ask if this is the right one. He pauses and responds, it’s the one by the university. Great, is there only one? "no , monsieur–there are many." OK, then which one? "err…my English is not so good." Fantastic…my french is worse than your english. "Do you speak German?" Nope. I ask if he speaks Spanish or Portuguese. Nope…then I have deja vu of when I landed in Switzerland. We go on for about 10 min and finally I have him walk me through which stations I need to go to. The "walk" isn’t very pleasant.
I get to the first station and look for my connection. Don’t see it anywhere. I ask a few people, but alas, they don’t speak any English. I start wondering to myself why the US gets such a bad wrap for only speaking one language…just on my street in my neighborhood there are at least 5 people that speak more than one language fluently. I’m in an international airport and can’t find ONE. NOT ONE. And I’m asking a lot of people. Finally, a man comes to my rescue. His name is Victor, and he’s from Spain. I approach him and ask, in English, how do I get to the X train? He says in spanish "No hablo ingles, ni frances." HEY! I know that language! I ask him if spanish is his native language and his eyes light up. He almost gives me a hug. He starts telling me his experience which sounds a lot like mine. He complained that no one spoke anything but french, even though he was in France and didn’t speak anything but Spanish, but hey–this is the International Airport! We help each other out as far as we know and then we part ways.
At the train station this drunk guy (I should have known better) gives me directions on how to get to where I want to go. I follow his instructions (ID-TEN-T) and find myself on the wrong train going the wrong way and stranding me in the boondocks of a run-down Paris suburb. How run down you ask? Just hold on…
As I go down the steps to the tracks to take me back to where I started so i can just sleep in the airport, this guy walks up to me and says, what sounds like (Potty?) I give him a look that says, "Excuse me?" He repeats it, but this time it sounds more like (Party?) And he repeats this with Rainman-like rhythm. I repeat what I think I hear him asking me, "Potty?" He says, "Potty?". I say "Do you mean Paris?" He repeats, "Pear Is?" OK, this conversation was going no where yesterday. I ask him "Where are you from?" It was if I had asked him if he was from another planet. I ask him "English"? He shakes his head. "Español?" Again he shakes his head. "Frances?" Nope. "Deutch?" Nope. What in the world, then, do you speak? He then intones "EE-ROK". OHH…Farsee? Nope. Really? What? He says, "Ara-beek". Dang, can’t even fake Arabic. I can’t say hello, goodbye, thank you, go away…nothing. He repeats the "potty" thing and its starting to drive me crazy. I look at the train map to try to figure out when the next train will come and get me back. It says "1:50am"; I look at my watch and it’s 1:10am. HOLY CRAP….it’s 10 degrees below zero, I’m carrying about 50lbs of stuff and I’m with Rainman who keeps repeating "Potty". At 1:30am, the lights at the station go out. Nice. 1:50am comes and goes…Rainman says, "Potty?" I figure I need to call a cab. I call the hotel and ask for the number to a cab. They give me a number and say, "Oh, but they won’t come." REALLY? Why not? "Because you are in St. Denis" And? "oohhh, monsieur..bad. Please be careful". hmmm…I look up at Rainman, sigh and start walking toward town. He follows me and says…you know…and I get fed up and say, "Is that all you know how to say? What is your name?" He looks at me with a confused look. I point to myself and say "Rick". I then point at him and say "you?" And he says "You?" Now come on, everyone, EVERYONE gets the Tarzan thing with pointing at yourself saying your name. That he didn’t understand that meant that there was no way we would be able to communicate. I keep walking. He says, "Go?" Holy crap, a new word! I say, "yes, I am going to a hotel". He says , "Money?" WHAT? I’ve been trying to elicit more than just "potty" from this man for 2 hours and in 30 seconds he busts out with two new words.
I say "Money? Do you have any?" and I point to him. He understands that and says "No money" pointing to himself. I am now suspicious. We are communicating pretty good now. Why the sudden change? then he points from me to himself saying "Money?" signifying that I would either give him money or pay for his transfer to the potty. OMG, you must be kidding…hit the road, Jack. And he does.
I walk down the street looking for a hotel to crash in and hope that perhaps they will be able to find me a taxi in the morning to take me to the airport. On the way there, I pass a McDonald’s that says it’s open until 4am. Cool, it’s only 2:30am. I attempt to open the door, but it’s locked. I look inside and I see about 6 or 7 Police officers standing there. I knock on the glass to see if they will open it up and they all go for their weapons. One of the police officers approach the door and I figure I will have more luck if I show him my passport and itinerary. Yup, they immediately relax and go back to conversing with one another as if I were never there. The officer opens the door and asks me all the usual questions…to make a long story short—they end up taking me to the police station where they call a cab for me. I find out that I was in the worst area of Paris and that police are regularly assaulted in the area where I was stranded. Let me repeat that: POLICE are REGULARLY ASSAULTED. I’m speechless.
I was *SO* glad to get out of that country.