Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Not Lost in Translation, Part I

Most of the time I feel like I’m living in one of my favorite movies. I watch 5-6 films every week, so I’ve seen maybe 10,000 movies in my life. The first one I saw was Pinocchio 50 years ago and last night I watched a documentary called I Like Killing Flies (it’s a must-see, rent it today.) So, I’ve seen a lot of movies and quote from many of my favorites all the time.
Sometimes it gets annoying, I’m sure. My wife will ask me something and I’ll say “Ya talking to me?”
The other day I walked by a construction site and yelled out at the building crew, “If you build it, they will come.” From their expressions, I got the feeling they weren’t Kevin Costner fans.
“Frankly, dear I don’t give a damn.” I told the cranky old lady down the street when she complained that my music was too loud.
“I coulda been a contender.” I told the M.C, after I finished last in a recent standup comedy competition.
Sometimes I combine them. My wife asked me how much we had in the checking account and I told her, “Love means never having to say show me the money.”
I’ll perplex a waiter with a strange order once in a while “I’ll take the liver with a box of chocolates, a dry martini, shaken, not stirred and a nice Chianti.”
Most of the time I’m big with the meaningless movie quotes, but every once in awhile a situation arises and allows me to reenact one of my more favorite film scenes.
This is a story of one of those moments.
First scene Fade In: I am on vacation in Cancun with a couple of friends. It’s 2003. These are the final years of me being single in my mid-40’s, because I am going to meet my wife within the next few months, although I obviously don’t know it yet.
It’s Mexico in August, so it’s mega-hot and full of tourists from all over the world. It’s the land of bar crawls, timeshare salesmen, people wearing thongs who shouldn’t, parasailing and shot girls pushing cheap tequila.
At our hotel, it looks like International Day at the House of Pancakes, with Americans being the definite minority. Pretty soon, we find ourselves partying with Brazilians, Peruvians, Australians, French, Spanish, even a few Ferengi and a random Bajoran. Since no one can speak the same language, people are communicating via hand gestures and buying each other rounds. Since it’s one of those all-inclusive resorts, the booze is free, but the gesture of acquiring alcohol for each other is universally well-received.
After a few days, we discover that the best spot is at one of the hotel’s in-pool bars. Drinking and standing in water is obviously a great attraction for people from all over the planet. These pool bars feature cement stools and each bar accommodates 8-10 damp revelers. As the day progresses, lime wedges, plastic cups and those little cocktail umbrellas start floating around the pool and accumulating in their filters, while bikini tops start falling off. No one is leaving to miss the fun, which means pretty much everyone must be urinating in the pool, but guess what—nobody cares!
After a few days imbibing in the various pool bars scattered all over the resort’s grounds, I begin to see particular trends in people’s behavior, depending on what part of the globe they hail from. As a rule, Africans are happy and laugh loudly at pretty much anything you say. Brazilians love life and it’s contagious. The Spaniards as a rule are very self-absorbed and somewhat aloof, but if you get them away from the pack, they’re very nice. Germans make you feel tolerated and the French fit nicely into their highly publicized stereotype—yes they’re rude, rude and more rude!
I had heard these things about the French before, but I chose not to believe them. It must just be one of those instances where a few bad apples give the whole country an unfair reputation for snarkiness. But in this situation, while on vacation many miles away from home, I can say--yes, indeed—it’s true. The French are snobby and their normal expression is one of disdain. Frowns and eye-rolling are their number one forms of exercise, when they’re not chain smoking or insulting people.
Well, back to the story. One afternoon I’m sucking down beers at the pool bar and this French guy (let’s call him Claude) is chatting up two pale cougars from Tennessee. The bar is packed and Claude is leaning all over me and keeps kicking me under the water. He turns back to me for a moment to ignore me. He has a scraggly beard that smells like stale cigarette smoke and there is a ripe scent surrounding him.
At one point, I go for a swim and then circle back to the bar. At this point, Claude has spread out and has basically claimed my seat.
“Uh, excuse me?” I inquire. “Hello?” I say to Claude’s back. “Hey! I was sitting there!”
Claude slowly turns around. “Wot iz it, you want?”
“I was sitting there.”
“Oh no, you left, you know?”
“Well, I’m back now.” I’m forcing a weak smile.
“I’m saving thiz spot for my friend, you know? You got up, you lose, you know?”
No, I don’t know and at this point, I’m really pissed. So, I just move my way back onto the stool.
Claude gives me a look and mutters something about me being just another pushy American. Get over it, I’m thinking.
So, he turns his back to me again and starts talking to the women from Tennessee. He’s chain smoking and sucking down free all-inclusive mixed drinks faster than the overworked bartender can pour them.
“Hey, bartender-faster, faster,” Claude barks. “I did not come here to wait for my booze!”
What a tool, I’m thinking. I’ve had enough of this clown at this point and I’m getting out of here. Why let this boorish individual taint my vacation for a millisecond?
But, before I can get up, Claude leans back and burns my arm with his cigarette.
At first, I can’t feel it, but then all of a sudden I start smelling singed hair. My arm is throbbing now.
“Hey, buddy, pal, friend, hello?” Claude is hoping I go away.
(Why do we address people in a familiar way when we’re actually upset with them? I should have said, “Hey asshole, douche bag, moron, hello?”)
“Wot izz it now?” Claude turns around with his signature eye-rolling frown.
“You burned me? Look!” Now there’s a huge welt on my upper arm.
“You made my cigarette all wet.” Claude says. “You ruined my cigarette!”
“What the…” Now, I even more shocked.
“Theze are very expensive Greek cigarettes,” Claude says. “But hopefully for you, I have more.” Evil smile.
I was speechless, which is rare.
Claude turns back to the two ladies and now my arm is really hurting.
So, I retreat, go back to the room and put some aloe and a band aid on the burn. I take a nap and then return to the pool. Unfortunately, Claude is still there, really drunk now and talking loudly to some Germans. I opt not to get in the pool, but in the interim I start watching Claude. He’s still yelling at the bartender, a poor local who is probably making $30 a day and now he’s spreading himself out all over the bar, bumping into people with his constant cigarette and not even saying “Ezcuss me.”
So, now I’m fuming and my mind is working. I’m trying not to let this guy get to me, but now he has. I want him to learn a lesson about basic manners, American-style.
Suddenly, I flash on a scene from one of my favorite Bill Murray movies.
(Stay tuned for Part #2)

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