“You should have brought a deck of cards,” my wife said on the way to the airport. Deb did the Europe thing 25 years ago with a friend, almost at the same age and along the same route that our middle daughter Katie was set to embark on. Deb knew a thing or two about touring Europe by rail, namely you’re going to want a deck of cards. Also: if you accept a stranger’s offer of a place to spend the night, be prepared to wake up to find that stranger staring at you.
“I thought about it,” said Katie about the cards.
“The good thing about playing cards,” I said, a bit sarcastically, “is you can buy them, oh, anywhere.”
The women didn’t comment.
“Of course,” I went on, “if you buy them in England, you have to call them ‘flap packets.’”
“What?” Deb turned to me.
“In England. Playing cards are ‘flap packets.’”
“Really?” Katie said from the back seat.
Deb looked at me, her wheels turning, and then saw me smirking. “Stop it.”
If I hadn’t smirked…
But they could be called flap packets. Why not? There are all kinds of things Katie doesn’t know.
I could have told her, for example, to be sure to tour the famous German coleslaw mines, or as the Germans playfully call them, “der Pitten-Excavashun Vittersaurkrauten.”
Or to take in the remains of the Encyclopedia Britannica labour camps in Corset-on-Plumpington with their iron gates emblazoned with the motto “The Truth Will Set You Free, But Not Here,” although most of the installations were destroyed when they were liberated by the Wikipedians in 2001.
Or to be sure to visit the Musée des Beaux-Escargots in the picturesque village of Longue-Jean-d’Argent and take a cellphone picture of tourists taking cellphone pictures of Monet’s famous “L’ampoule dans la salle de bain est brûlé.”
“Ahh,” I could have said, “I envy you waking up in Bulgaria with the golden morning sun beaming through the rippled pane of the rustic farmhouse as you ask yourself, ‘How the hell did we end up in Bulgaria?’”
Or encouraged her to head up to Scotland for the running of the scrod and the tossing of the sporran. Springtime in Scotland, where they say, ‘March comes in like a lglottlhch and goes out like yheclgccedh.’”
I could say all these things because Europe is a big, empty canvas for Katie. She has been there once on a class trip, chaperoned and herded from city to city, site to site. But this time, it’s just her and a friend travelling for three months with only the vaguest of agendas and even less preliminary research.
What Katie does have is: a brand new backpack; a round-the-neck money pouch; an AC power adapter for weirdo European electrical sockets; a quick-drying travel towel, which is very Hitchhiker’s-Guide-to-the-Galaxy of her; Quebecois French, a smattering of Italian and (as they say) a dusseldorf of German. Her friends also gave her a rape whistle, which was both thoughtful and terror-inducing.
Yes, I should be terrified that she’s touring Europe without a plan or chaperone or the good sense to know when her own father is pulling her leg. I should be terrified also because we co-signed her credit card. (Out of sight, out of money, as they say.)
But I’m not terrified, not at all. In a couple of weeks, somewhere in Ireland maybe, Katie will turn 21, the globally accepted threshold of adulthood, fully formed pre-frontal cortex and all. This is the perfect age for adventure – young enough to embrace the unknown, old enough to rely on the moral compass that her parents, her friends and experience have helped calibrate.
Yes, the world’s a scary place, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned in this sad, old world, it’s that it’s scary everywhere, even just down the block. So why not be in a scary place that’s overseas and wonderfully foreign, where people say, “Ach! You’re Canadian! We used to like you. Ah well, come let’s buy you a pint anyway.”
Plus, I can joke all I want about the nude beaches on the Norwegian fjords, because the truth is my children are travelling to places that I, in 49 years, have never been. I’m not terrified. I’m jealous.
Besides, I just checked; those nude Norwegian beaches? Those actually exist. I guess the joke’s on me.