Last Day Abroad July 6, 2016

Filed under: Humor,Life Lessons,Travel — aniederkorn @ 10:41 pm
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The year was 1994. I had just finished a semester abroad in Toledo, Spain, followed by about three weeks traveling around Europe on the cheap. My experience was a combination of culture shock, anxiety, enlightenment, and just plain fun. My Spanish was the best it had ever been, and I ate a ton of wonderful Mediterranean food but never gained a pound. (Probably a combination of my twenty-year-old metabolism and the unprocessed, healthy diet). However, by the time late May rolled around I was more than ready to head home.

Let’s start by saying I wasn’t one of those students who came back from abroad and had to make sure everyone around them knew how “worldly” they were. I wasn’t wearing a long peasant dress and constantly working references about Spain into normal conversation just to get attention. Okay so maybe I did think, “Wow, you have no idea how sheltered you are” when I ran into a few people, but for the most part I just felt so lucky that I lived in the United States and could come back to such a wonderful country. I had missed my family and friends so much; with email in its infancy, I had to rely on good old-fashioned letters during my entire stay. I saved every one. I also came to miss the little mundane everyday activities we all took for granted. For example, when I had composed a list of things I wanted to do over the summer, one of them was actually “go grocery shopping”. (Ironic since I now absolutely hate grocery shopping unless it’s Trader Joe’s or Costco.)

Now the second thing you need to know is that I had grown up in a family that was exposed to other cultures quite often. Even though I lived in a small town, my dad was a member of the local Rotary Club that would host exchange students every year. It was common for our family to host students for a weekend here or there; when I was in high school we hosted a Japanese girl for a semester. The whole experience with Rotary was based on kindness, fellowship, and generosity. My family was not compensated for hosting these students; we willingly took them in, took them places, and bought them Christmas gifts as if they were part of the family. That was just the way it was, so I somewhat expected the same kind of treatment when I studied overseas years later. I was so wrong.

So here we are back in Toledo, Spain.My last day abroad. I got up around 5:30 a.m. in order to catch a ride with a neighbor to the bus station. That’s right; my host family had already said their goodbyes the night before and were not actually taking me to the airport about an hour away. This was definitely not the send-off I had expected, but I knew that my host family was being paid to have me in their home. Despite this, I still felt hurt that our friendship was not worth a trip to the airport.

So instead there was Carlos, clearly annoyed he had to bring me to the bus station on his way to work. I struggled to get my suitcases down all the stairs to the waiting bus. Once in Madrid, I managed to find a taxi to the airport, relieved that I was almost there. Until we actually got to the airport, that is. The taxi driver did some calculations on a piece of paper, careful to include my 2 suitcases and the carry-on, then announced that I owed him $120.


I was cranky already and now this guy is trying to rip me off? I didn’t even have $120 on me. And here we had such a nice conversation in Spanish on the ride here…MIERDA.  He tried to play nice and offered to help me with my bags as I went to find an ATM (and a police officer, which I never did find. They were probably on strike. Every other day someone was on strike in that damn country.)

Once I was robbed by the taxi driver I got into the long check-in line. As I was waiting, a chipper lady from the airline approached me and told me that the flight was oversold and she was looking for volunteers for a later flight. Since my family was driving 5-6 hours to O’Hare to meet me, this was out of the question. I smiled at her through gritted teeth and told her no while shaking my head wildly. My crazy eyes seemed to tell her: Leave. Now. 

I checked in, found my gate and settled into a chair, now more than ever just wanting to get home to my land of Taco Bell and peanut butter. But alas my hell was not over. Soon after I sat down, a forty-something Spanish man decided to lie across the chairs directly across from me. He closed his eyes and seemed to be hunkering down for a pre-flight nap. But first, he had to take care of a little business. And by business, I mean sticking his hand down his pants and scratching like he had pants full of poison oak topped with mosquito bites, then sprinkled with an allergic reaction. He was not adjusting any balls, he was not playing with himself…he was just SCRATCHING.

I looked around the gate. Uh…yeah, is anyone else seeing this? Why isn’t anyone else looking disgusted? What is wrong with you people? This guy is rubbing himself so much his balls have turned into one huge human scratch-off ticket.

I closed my eyes and dreamed about kissing the ground when I landed in D.C.

Try not to be ethnocentric. Try not to be ethnocentric. Try not to ethnocentric.

Hell, all bets were off at that point. I can still appreciate other cultures and celebrate their differences while thinking my country is the best, right? Everyone should think their own country is the best! (I can’t speak for those countries that are so corrupt and full of terrorism that people need to leave – of course in that case then yes get the hell out.) But I’m not going to apologize for loving my country. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Happy belated Independence Day, everyone! And may your days abroad be safe, merry and scratch-free.





Things They Don’t Teach You in Spanish Class December 28, 2014

The Time: March, 1994

The Place: Madrid, Spain

The Scene: A Pharmacy

One of the cool things about studying abroad is that you get extra time for travel. Spring break was no exception; instead of the normal week, I think we got two. And somehow I ended up traveling with Colleen, who happened to have a brother and sister-in-law living in Germany. The plan was to visit them and then hit Paris on the way back home.

Of course things started out with a little glitch: Colleen had a yeast infection, and she needed the Spanish version of Monistat ASAP.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Anne, are you sure this “friend” was not you? It was really you, wasn’t it? And let me be clear: NO. IT WAS NOT ME. I’m sure this all sounds like the perfect cover, but I assure you I had not even experienced a yeast infection at that point in my life. And if you must know, I didn’t even have a period for that entire semester abroad, so clearly everything down there was pretty much shut down anyway. But that’s a whole other story.

So we managed to find a pharmacy (apothecary?) because in 1994 Madrid you didn’t exactly find a Walgreens on every corner. This was no corner of happy and healthy. At the most, it was a corner of inconvenience and limited selection. One couldn’t just browse the aisles and pick out a favorite brand of anything; everything was locked up behind a cupboard or on a shelf behind the pharmacist. Toothpaste may as well have been a pack of cigarettes in this joint. You actually had to speak with the pharmacist and tell him what you wanted.

Sadly, my friend realized she did not know how to say “yeast infection” in Spanish. Somehow that one got left off the vocab lists we memorized each week. The best she could tell the elderly male – of course – pharmacist was that she had an “infección vaginal”. Apparently that was not specific enough for this guy, who just continued to give her a confused look. Because we all know there are a whole lot of things that could wrong with your coslopus, am I right, Chelsea Handler? And again – it was 1994 people! In Spain years that was 1974. Unless you had a really good pocket dictionary, you were out of luck. Mobile phones with internet and cool translation apps were still things of a Jetson-like future.

But suddenly, I knew just how to save the day.

“іPan!” I blurted, yelling out the Spanish word for bread. “іEs como pan! Es como pan!” (It’s like bread! It’s like bread!)

Ah brilliant, Anne. You realize you just started shouting “bread infection” at a pharmacist?

But it worked. The old guy suddenly knew exactly what Colleen (not I) needed, and unlocked the huge apothecary case behind him to hand over the goods.

Her vagina was saved, all because of me.

I later found out that “vaginal yeast infection” in Spanish was called “infección vaginal por hongos levaduriformes.” Roughly translated, I believe that means “vaginal infection caused by random attacking mushrooms.”

I think I will just stick to bread infection.


Why I Took a Solo Vacation February 25, 2014

The conversation would go like this:


“I can’t wait to get out of this cold weather; I’m going to Fort Lauderdale for an entire week!”


“Great!” They would say. “Who are you going with?”


“No one,” I would reply. “I’m going by myself.”


(Big look of surprise, pity or confusion), “Oh…really? Why?”


And so I’d tell them. For one thing it’s just hard to find someone to travel with. My husband works in education so he did not have that week off, and my own work schedule looked pretty busy during his spring break.  Some friends could not spare the time or money or both. Some people had vacations already planned. And other people…although I love them dearly, probably did not have the same travel tastes as I did. I would be happy shopping, eating and lying on the beach, whereas others need more adventure.


After explaining this, I’d get one of three reactions. The first group undoubtedly walked away thinking I was a loser with no friends. The second group thought I was brave and cool, but they would never do such a thing themselves. But then the third group (and these were my favorite people) just got it.


“Yeah…” they would say while nodding. “Yeah…that is GENIUS. Tell me more.”


The truth is, if I absolutely HAD to bring someone with me, I’m sure I could have found someone…but after a while I kind of called off my search on purpose. Because the more I thought about it, the more I craved time all to myself.


I completely understand that many people would hate this idea, but not me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve known this about myself. I could spend hours and hours alone in my bedroom playing with my Barbies or reading books. My kindergarten report card said “Anne should spend less time playing by herself and more time with other children.”


When I think about that report card today, I think, “So where’s the problem?”


When I finally did leave on vacation, the questioning continued, starting with the rental car guy.


“Do you have family here?”




“Are you meeting friends here?”




“Are you here for work?”




He just could not get past the idea that I would be on vacation by myself. And no, I don’t want to pay twenty-five bucks for a toll pass I will never use, so lay off already.


(On a side note, I ALMOST scored $557 worth of travel vouchers from Southwest when they asked for volunteers to take the next flight 3 hours later. If they only needed one person, I was in! If they needed two, then they would take this other pair who also volunteered. Yeah, they ended up needing two. So, so close. It went to a dad and son who separated from the wife and two other kids. Probably because they were all Screamy McFidgety. And I should know. I ended up sitting in front of them on the damn plane.)


But getting back to my vacation. Let’s face it: Some of us just need time to ourselves to do what we want, when we want. The idea of having an entire week by myself sounded downright heavenly. The solo TV viewing alone was worth it. No rednecks or shows about people trying to rustle up snakes/raccoons/fish/opossums/rare coins/one-night-stands/publicity. For one week it would be strictly E!, Bravo and my Netflix queue.


And then there was the sleeping. If I wanted to take a nap from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., get up, eat some chips, rally, then watch a “Rich Kids of Beverly Hills” marathon until 2 a.m., I could do this. (If you haven’t already guessed, this happened. A lot.) But yet I disturbed no one because I was blissfully alone.


But there’s more! I had the bathroom to myself. I shopped at my own pace and only went into stores that I wanted to visit. I didn’t care what anyone else was hungry for. What mattered was that I was hungry for Chick-Fil-A, damnit, and hell yeah I would drive 30 minutes to get it. (This too may have happened. P.S. Will someone please open a Chick-Fil-A near me, already?)


Did I miss my family? Of course I did. I do admit I was most lonesome at dinner when I’d have to eat alone. I kept thinking that people in large groups would notice me, take pity on me and then ask me to join them, but they never did. But I got through it, often reading a book or eavesdropping on my fellow diners while sipping some wine.


And so now after 2.5 books, five magazines, seven Glee episodes, two movies, and countless blissful hours of sleep …I am refreshed.



Hot Times in Palm Springs June 21, 2013

It’s the first day of summer! That means vacation time! In honor of this special day, I would like to share one of my most memorable summer vacation stories.


The time: Summer, circa 2003


The place: Palm Springs


The vibe: Hotter than shit


The participants: Me and my kick-ass mom


The (approximate) conversation, as we are checking into the “bungalow” at our hotel:


Mom: Oh, how quaint. We’re in the “Lana Turner” suite!


Me: Yeah, this place supposedly has a lot of Old Hollywood history.


Mom: Hmmm. That’s kind of odd. There’s a framed photo of Edward Scissorhands  on the wall.


Me: Great. That should lull me into some sweet nightmares tonight.


Mom: There’s also a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker.


Me: And Princess Diana.


Mom: (now in the bathroom) And here’s a male ballet dancer.


Me: Interesting choice of photography for a hotel room.


Mom and Me: Hmmm.


We then go about our business of sunbathing, eating, shopping and generally sweating for the next few days until we check out.


Mom: Oh. My. God.


Me: What?


Mom: Look at that sign. Didn’t we see that when we checked in? (Sign: Home of Palm Springs’ first gay and lesbian condo community.)


Me: Apparently not. So that explains the pictures in our room.


Mom: How?


Me: Those are all gay icons. The gays love their SJP.


Mom: So this entire week the staff here probably thought that I was your older lesbian lover?


Me: I’m afraid so, Mom.


Mom: Now THAT is funny.


I Spent Christmas in Vegas January 4, 2013

Yes, the holidays were a bit unconventional this year. After spending a weekend celebrating Christmas with my family, my husband and I jumped on a plane for Vegas on Christmas Eve. Not only was the price right (a $25/night resort hotel room!) but I could hit the after-Christmas sales while my husband hit the poker tables. If I was lucky maybe he would slip me a twenty for some extra dance lessons with Johnny Castle.

Now I must preface this by saying that I love Vegas…so overall the trip was a success, and I would do it again. The decorations at The Venetian and The Bellagio were particularly wonderful, plus the food, shopping, entertainment, etc. kept us busy.

But who am I kidding; you don’t want to read about that. You want the juicy Vegas stories. Now I am too old and too married to wake up with a tiger in my room, and most of my Vegas “sinning” involves overeating and overshopping, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t taste some local flavor.

Okay but first, church. (Just bear with me here, please.)

Things started out a bit rocky when I attempted to attend midnight mass. I decided that since we were in Sin City, it couldn’t hurt to earn some extra credit. So we attended services at a huge cathedral complete with the Bishop of the Las Vegas Diocese presiding. If anyone has seen extra sinniness, it’s this guy.

Now if you know anything about Catholic mass, you know that Christmas celebrations are usually around 90 minutes. But when the bishop is involved, there’s a whole lot more pomp and circumstance and even costume changes (i.e. Bishop Beanie vs. Bishop Mitre, for example). Tack on another fifteen minutes for incense swinging alone. It took 45 minutes before we got to the Gospel, and I was ready to pass out. Apparently a day of dehydrating flights and a stuffy, packed seat in the balcony do not mix. Faced with the possibility of falling unconscious into the mothball-laden fur coat in front of me, I chose to leave early for some fresh air and water. Not a good start.

Thankfully, things picked up the next day. After rehydrating and getting a good night’s rest, my husband and I hit the strip for a 3-mile run. The sights and decorations on the strip were enough to distract me from my heavy breathing, plus the “adult literature distributors” were not out yet, eliminating a huge obstacle. Usually there are about fifteen in a row, so that would have been tricky. Good for my mileage (and my Spanish usage), but tricky.

Now onto Fremont Street.

The first Fremont Street performer we encountered was a bikini-clad man dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Even though I am from a small town in Wisconsin, this was not shocking to me. After all, I love me my drag queens. The Drag Queen Bingo episode of Sex and the City alone made me want to move to Manhattan immediately. Those gals are bee-yoo-tiful and can teach me a thing or two about concealer. However, this was no RuPaul. Instead, he looked exactly like the super creepy serial killer transvestite from The Silence of the Lambs. I was relieved that the fur shrug he wore was actually a real garment and not a little dog named Precious. He had nice legs though, I’ll give him that.

After swiftly making it past Buffalo Bill, we decide to spend our $10 meal credit at the swanky café at Binions. I was about to bite into my BBQ beef when in wheels Mr. Gangrene, proudly displaying his infected and smelly foot for all the diners to see. He was soon removed due to several complaints from patrons. He obviously had some mental problems and probably a good case of diabetes, so I felt sorry for him. On the other hand, I could not feel sorry for another man I encountered.

I’m talking about The Flosser.

As in “I just had a meal of corn-on-the-cob, popcorn and Butterfingers, and this may take a while, so I am going to get all of this gunk out of my mouth by flossing in the middle of the street.”

The real kicker was, he wasn’t by himself. And it’s not like he was with some other disgusting slobs or a strange band of dental hygiene enthusiasts. He was with his wife and two kids, and they just stood there while Dad took care of business, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. And by all accounts they looked like a normal, non-Honey Boo Boo type of family. Who apparently thinks it’s okay to chuck food particles from your mouth onto the street.

Lastly, what would vacation be without a little embarrassment?

Now if you know me, you know that I hate being the center of attention…unless my hair is perfect and I’m wearing a really hot outfit, then it’s okay. Thank goodness for the pretty dress, otherwise a stunt person would have been nice during my wedding. I don’t want to be that person pulled on stage for a private dance at the Chippendales show. I don’t want the stand-up comedian talking to me; I am an audience member, and I prefer to stay invisible, thank you very much. I did not fork out 20 bucks to become part of your act; I paid so you could entertain me.

So imagine my horror when suddenly my husband becomes part of the pre-show entertainment at Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere. Since I was sitting next to him, the huge auditorium spotlight also shone on me, so in my book this still counts as personal mortification.

I knew we were doomed when the French “street performer” took one look at my husband (from 10 rows down) and said, “Ah, zere he ees! My friend!” and then promptly booked it up to us. My husband must have some sort of audience participation appeal; he was also chosen to be the “enemy spy” on board at the Star Wars ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (And by the way, he loves seeing stand-up comedians and would probably also love talking to one during a gig. It figures.)

Well I will not ruin the surprise for you in case you ever see Mystere, but let’s just say it involved lots and lots of popcorn and the entire audience laughing at my husband. All I could do was sit there and say, “Wow. I am really embarrassed for you.”

As for the rest of the week…I am just sorry we had to leave before we could see MC Hammer and Tone Loc perform together at the Riviera. That would have been sweet.




Things I Learned in Georgia July 29, 2012

Filed under: Humor,Pop Culture,Travel — aniederkorn @ 9:44 pm

I recently took a family road trip down to Walt Disney World.  At first I was going to write about some of our travel adventures while on that long journey, but then I discovered that the most interesting things all happened to us in Georgia.  Who woulda thunk?

For example:

#1:  So you want to open up a barbeque joint, you’re really vain and you can’t think of a name for your restaurant.  No problem.  The guy who owns this place figured it all out.

I Now Declare this “Keith-A-Que!!”

#2:  In rural Georgia, signs on gas station bulletin boards are very intriguing.

Sign One:  “K&S Cow Catching – We will catch, haul and work cows.”

What does “work” cows mean?  You give them an orange vest and a shovel and put them in a ditch?  What? What does this mean?! 

#3:  Apparently every traveling family headed to Disney World stops just south of Atlanta, because there were no rooms to be found.  I must have called a good twenty places, and that was not counting the places where we stopped.  I asked a hotel clerk if something special was going on in the area.  She said, “No, it’s like this every weekend.” After no luck with Northern Florida either, we said screw it and just kept driving to our hotel at Disney World.  Note for next time:  Book that hotel in Valdosta, Georgia, ahead of time.  Or just fly. 

#4:  “The World of Coca-Cola” attraction in downtown Atlanta really sucks, especially after going to someplace as awesome as Disney World.  However, the reason I hated it was because it’s rather cult-like.  Plus they tried to associate Coca-Cola with fitness, which told me something just isn’t jibing here.  The whole spectacle was a cross between Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and The Duff Beer Tour: totally non-apologetic in its commercialism…plus a super creepy mascot. 

What’s Creepier? Me, or…

The Duff Beer Mascot?


I’ve Gone Hollywood, Part 3 of 3 (AKA OHMYGOD I MET JOEL MCHALE!) April 1, 2012

Day Five:  Just in case we didn’t see too many celebrities walking down the street or sitting next to us at restaurants, we had a back-up plan.  That is, we scheduled events where celebrities were a sure thing.

First up was a visit to the filming of The Soup (one of my favorite shows) starring Joel McHale.  Everyone knows that there is only one thing better than celebrities, and that is making fun of celebrities.  McHale and his team of writers have this down to an art form, and for that I thank them.  (Again, another dream job of mine.)

The Soup’s studio is really a quite smallish room room with orange chairs, a huge camera in a the middle, a large green screen in the front and two monitors on each side (to show clips from different TV shows).  The audience is small, maybe 60 people at the most, and it includes a few cast members from the show Community which Joel also stars in (where does this guy find the time to do all this and still appear in stand-up at every casino within a 100 mile radius of L.A.?) 

When Joel actually appears, I am smitten and mesmerized.  He is taller, thinner and better looking in person.  Before the actual taping begins, he runs in place to pump himself up.  And here’s what I learned:

  • People reading from teleprompters screw up.  A lot.  That smooth delivery you see on TV may have taken many, many takes.  A twenty-one minute show may take well over an hour to tape.  In McHale’s case, he flips off the camera and swears every time he messes up.  Not in an angry way, but more in a goofy way.  Then he entertains us by cracking jokes until everyone is ready for the next take.
  • The original jokes may not work.  If it sounded good on paper but not so much out loud, then a break is taken while an alternative joke is either selected or written right there on the spot.  And then you have to wait for the teleprompter to be changed.
  • A lawyer is present to catch little things, like revealing the Apple logo on air (that’s a no-no).  One segment had to be re-shot with a newly-covered iPad.  Joel’s response:  “As if people at home are going to wonder, ‘Hmmm what’s that he’s using?’””
  • That guy you always hear laughing the loudest during The Soup?  That’s Tom, the stage manager, who sits right next to the camera.  He’s also in charge of keeping Joel in line when he gets too goofy and off track.
  • Some people will laugh at anything a comedian says, even when it’s not funny or even meant to be funny.  Dane Cook at Madison Square Garden, I’m especially talking to you.

Joel McHale was very nice and stayed to talk to us and take pictures.  I was so nervous and sweaty you’d think I was about to play a game of dodgeball against Chuck Lidell. When he heard we were from Wisconsin, he asked if we were from Door County and then asked if we liked clam bakes.  I had to correct him and say it was fish boils.  I’ll forgive him though; knowing Door County is pretty impressive.

Me trying not to hyperventilate while meeting Joel McHale

Day Five, Evening:  Every March the Paley TV Festival hosts casts from several popular television programs.  Each night of the festival features a different show, and some nights there are special VIP parties.  We were lucky enough to get tickets to see the entire cast of Modern Family (my favorite show!) plus its creator, Steve Levitan.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Out of the entire cast, Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet talked the most.  Sofia Vergara talked the least.
  • Like her character Gloria, Sofia Vergara hates working with the dog on the show.  “They gheev heem the doggie treats all day…and thain hees breath smells like the doggie treats.”
  • When Ty Burrell gets nervous he blinks both eyes constantly; whenever he would answer a question from the moderator and all eyes were on him, we could see this.
  • Sarah Hyland (Hailey) proclaimed she was just “happy to have a head over her roof.”  This garnered a few chuckles from the audience.
  • “Luke” proclaimed that “everyone is always messing with my hair.”
  • You know that episode where Claire slips and falls over spilled eggs in the kitchen?  Not part of the script.  However, since it was realistic and she didn’t want to waste such a good fall, Julie Bowen still said her next line.
  • A gay fan told Eric Stonestreet this story:  “When I came out to my mom, she asked me if I was a Cam or a Mitchell.”

    The cast of Modern Family at the Paley TV Festival

Day Six:  As our Hollywood trip came to an end, we celebrated with some authentic Hollywood cuisine:  Pink’s.  The wait in line was worth it.  Check out the processed goodness in these chili cheese dogs.  I hope my thighs forgive me some day.


After that meal, we rolled ourselves back to The Grove for more shopping and a movie.  However, we could also kill some time by watching the filming of Extra, the Hollywood gossip show.  The hosts are the incredibly beautiful Maria Menounos and hunky dimple boy Mario “AC Slater” Lopez.  Their job is to look good and show up to read from the teleprompter while everyone stands and admires them.  Here are the beautiful ones in action:

Mario Lopez checking texts in between his strenuous takes on “Extra”

The lovely Maria Menounos taping “Extra”

Well that’s it for my Hollywood tale.  Until next time…Niederkorn out.