Why You Should Always Learn A Few Words of Their Language

Travel and Dating Lessons Learned the Hard Way

It is a truth universally accepted that it is a terrible idea to travel internationally with somebody you’ve only been dating for a few months.

I’m still on good terms with most of the people I’ve dated. Some I would consider amongst my closest friends, others I’ve at least stayed friendly with. But there are maybe two or three that I am perfectly happy never to see again, that I’ve made a conscious choice to avoid. “Brad” is one of them. (It’s not just me: Anna, the least judgmental person I know, who likes pretty much everyone, would like it known that she “never liked that asshole.”)

Brad traveled a lot, mostly for work. He was, and still is, in the film industry. It’s a less than glamorous job, but a very necessary one, and he is very good at it. You wouldn’t know his name, but you’ve almost definitely seen his work. The two of us met a few year ago at the end of October, and fell into a “whirlwind romance,” which is to say, an extremely unhealthy one. He told me he thought it would be romantic for us to spend New Year’s Eve in Europe, when we’d been dating for three weeks.

We went, but it was a disaster, from our beginning fight about Taylor Swift in the cab to JFK to our final fight on the plane ride home, when he made me watch Luc Besson’s Lucy. (“To knowledge,” indeed. I turned it off ten minutes in and watched ‘71 instead.) Actually, it was a disaster even before we left. We argued about him really wanting going to Brussels, when I really wanted to go to Madrid or Amsterdam. We argued about the hotel, since we had agreed to split the cost evenly, but he wouldn’t stay anywhere that had less than four or five stars — and I couldn’t afford that. We argued about whether we should check our bags, which led to me overpacking a carry-on and watching as the TSA literally aired my dirty laundry in public at Heathrow Airport. We even argued about tourist etiquette: I wanted to learn a lot about our destinations’ culture, and he really didn’t.

“‘Dank u’ is ‘thanks’ in Dutch, right?” I asked him while we were on the train from London to Amsterdam.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“But you’ve been to Amsterdam before,” I said, surprised.

“I have,” he said, “but I didn’t learn any Dutch.”

“Not even ‘please’ and ‘thank you?’”

“Everyone there speaks English, anyway,” he shrugged. Was I dating an Ugly American?

“I feel like it’s the polite thing to do, though,” I said. “They’ll at least appreciate the effort. And learning to order stuff in another language can help prevent any confusion.”

“Let me explain something to you,” he said, which was something he did a lot. “I travel so much for work that it’s just not possible for me to learn every language. So I only learn a few words in their language when I’m there for more than two weeks.” I did not point out that he had previously been in Amsterdam for more than two weeks. Instead, I tried to make a joke.

“You sound like Cher in Clueless,” I said. “‘Everywhere you go has valet!’” He did not find this funny.

As soon as we arrived, Brad said he wanted a martini. “I’ve decided martinis are what I drink when I’m in Europe,” he told me before we left the US. It was a good idea in gin-loving London, but seemed an odd choice for continental Europe, which never had Prohibition the way the U.S. and UK did, and thus never really got into spirits and mixed drinks. The woman at the restaurant greeted us in Dutch, then looked embarrassed, and apologized in English. I ordered a glass of white wine, and she nodded, writing it down. Brad asked for a martini on the rocks.

She looked puzzled. “Martini… vermouth?”

“Yeah,” said Brad. “Martini, on the rocks, with vermouth.”

“All right,” she said, still looking puzzled.

We spent the next few minutes trying not to argue, and she brought us our drinks. We toasted — in English — and took a sip. My wine was great, but Brad grimaced.

“What is this?” he said. He took another sip, then spat it out, looking indignant. “This isn’t a martini! This is just vermouth, on the rocks!”

I glanced behind the bar, and burst out laughing: there was no gin, but there was a very large bottle of Martini-brand vermouth.

“You see?” I said. “This is why you should always learn a few words of their language.”

He scowled into his drink, and I knew an argument was coming. For the moment, though, I felt like I’d won. That, I knew somewhere deep down, was not a healthy thing to feel in a relationship. Relationships shouldn’t be competitive. What kind of person was I becoming when I was with him? I didn’t know, but I didn’t like it.

Things didn’t get better when we got back home, and we broke up a few weeks later. (Yes, we had an argument about who was breaking up with whom.) It felt like a tremendous relief, probably to him as well. Four months was more than enough. There are times I’ve wished it had never happened, but I suppose some lessons you have to learn firsthand.

So, here’s to the lessons I learned. Proost! Bedankt!

Stuff I Did This Week: Lately I’ve been working a lot on projects that won’t be shown or produced for a while. So I’m happy to announce an upcoming live show I’m very excited about: a special Night Vale Presents… about the Faceless Old Woman! We will be at the Largo at the Coronet on Saturday, April 27th!

There are also still tickets available for the upcoming presentation at Housing Works NY on March 13, where I will be asking YA author and legend Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, amongst others) about her beautiful new memoir, Shout!

Fake BBC Show of the Week: Vermouth, On the Rocks

(Also, it’s Irish, but have you guys seen Derry Girls? Please watch Derry Girls. It is everything I love in a single show.)