My Foreigner Freak Out

Yesterday I had a Grade A foreigner freak out. And boy was it a doozey – I was shouting some internationally recognized bad words and I tried to get the police involved. Whoa….

After more than 20 months on the road, I guess I was due. In hindsight, the tantrum had been slowly brewing. Here’s how I reached the point of combustion:

A Slow Simmer

April 2011 – Manila, Philippines: One morning, I seriously almost had an amorism when a Manila taxi driver overcharged me by 80 cents. Yes, I lost my cool over 80 cents. Which is terrible, especially considering that the Philippines is a woefully poor country and the taxi ride in general was so cheap.

And yet, when you know someone is purposely ripping you off, it can push you over the edge. The encounter ended with me telling the driver he should be ashamed of himself. Frankly, I don’t think he was.

March 2012 – Hatton, Sri Lanka: This near-freak out occurred during a harrowing mini bus ride through Sri Lanka’s hill country. I was on one of the most crowded bus I had ever been on (which is saying something) and I had to go to the bathroom for more than 4 hours. Furthermore, I was badly harassed at the bus station where I transferring. All these things would put anyone in a raw mood.

The bus was a standard minivan and had about 40 people packed in. I was lucky enough to have a seat with my big backpack in front of me and my small backpack on my lap. I was also by the window which helped keep claustrophobia at bay. So really I had no excuse.

Everyone was packed in so tight, that several arms were literally covering my eyes and brushing my face as the other standing passengers were leaning forward trying to hold on to the side of the careening van. After more than an hour into the 3-hour ride, it took all my restraint not to start screaming and biting the flesh in front of me.

I soon realized that if I freaked out I would simply be dumped on the side of the road to wait for another equally crowded bus to pick me up. The encounter ended with me taking a deep breath and regaining my composure (and further restraining my bladder).

I also had the wherewithal to feel incredibly ashamed of my intolerance of the situation. The people standing in the bus were all Tamil tea pickers dressed up for their night on the town after 6 days of picking tea leaves in the Sri Lanka sun. Gulp. Truly humbled.

August 2012 – Sozopol, Bulgaria: While dining in the Old Town of Sozopol, I was given a drink I didn’t order and charged for it. The waiter brought me Raki and I tried several times to send it back. But the waiter refused.

When the bill came, there was an additional charge of $7 for the Raki. I ended the meal by throwing my drink over the balcony of the restaurant to show my disdain. Now, this is not my usual M.O. and was a sure sign that a meltdown was imminent.

August 2012 – Istanbul, Turkey: In order to get a local phone number, I needed to get my iPhone unlocked ($45), buy a local Turkish SIM card ($30), as well as some air time ($10) – pretty expensive for less than a week worth of talk time.

After just 3 calls, the phone went dead. I went back and forth to several stores in the hot Istanbul sun to try and get it fixed. I ultimately returned to where they sold me the SIM card, since evidently they had not registered the phone properly.

Apparently the Turkish government requires a $75 activation fee for foreigners. This extra charge pushed me over the edge. (Not the charge so much as the fact that the salesman didn’t tell me about the extra registration fee when I originally bought the SIM card. He would obviously know that the phone would stop working for me within a day.)

I went to ask for my money back. The salesman told me no. I told him that he didn’t properly tell me about all the charges involved when he sold me the SIM. He just shrugged his shoulders, whereupon I cursed at him. (Note: I’m only 50% sure I said this nasty expletive aloud. I may have only said it in my head. In my angered state, I’m unsure.) I told him I would get the police. He shrugged again. Combustion!

Out I went to a police officer standing on the corner to plead my case. He, of course, didn’t speak any English and just stared at the woman frothing in front of him. A very nice young Turkish man came to assist me and translate to the cop, whereupon cop told me to call the police station and report it (which I couldn’t do since my phone didn’t work. Oh the irony!).

The cop then walked away. My translator told me he was Traffic Police and this wasn’t his responsibility. He said I could report it to the authorities but they probably wouldn’t do anything either. Grrrrrr…..stymied!

The encounter ended with me thanking my translator for his help and sulking away, ranting to myself and fighting back tears of frustration.

Café Latte Cure

I knew I needed to get a grip so I headed to the one place where I would find a sure-fire cure for a foreigner freak out: Starbucks.

Now I usually avoid American chain restaurants on the road, but this was an emergency. I decided for the sake of humanity I’d indulge in a little cappuccino therapy. (In the land of Turkish coffee no less!)

I took my grande latte back to my hotel and for the rest of the day I literally chilled out in the air conditioning, watched MTV videos, and tooled around Pinterest.

24 hours later, I was cured! And all for only Turkish Lira 6.25 ($3.50) – the cost of my coffee. Actually think the register guy at Starbucks overcharged me by 25 cents, but in my newly enlightened state, I decided to let it go…

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This entry was posted on Monday, September 17th, 2012 and is filed under How to Cope.

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