Posted by: travelrat | October 10, 2007

Postilions, lightning and stuff

This time, I’m just going to share a few thoughts. Not about anywhere in particular, just a few thoughts about travel that pop into my head from time to time. The first subject is phrase books. On the face of it, they’re a useful tool, even if you’re fairly fluent in the language of the place where you are going.

But are they? Remember those French lessons at school, where they taught you useful phrases like ‘Lo! Our postilion has been struck by lightning’ or to converse about the doings of that little prig Marcel and his soppy sister Denise. (In case things have changed since I went to school, they were a pair of unbelievable kids stuck in a 1920s time warp)

Things haven’t changed. Although they no longer give out stuff like ‘Summon the carabinieri! My governess has been abducted by the bandits’, there still isn’t much useful stuff in them. There is, for instance, no translation for ‘Another beer, please!’ or even ‘Keep the change!’ but there is one for ‘Where can I change my baby’s nappy?’ Now, assuming you do need the baby changing facilities, there’s usually a picture of a baby on the door of such.

Here’s a thing, too! Two whole pages devoted to what to say at the theatre/cinema! My take is, if you speak enough of the language to understand what’s being said, you don’t need the phrase book anyway.

Another beef is hotel showers. No two work exactly the same way, but they do give the instructions. But, those instructions are often in really small print, or are otherwise unreadable without your glasses.

And, who wears glasses in the shower?


  1. I speak Italian quite fluently, my French is passable, but my Spanish is shocking. No matter where I go in Spanish-speaking countries I always seem to end up saying I am in love with someone’s donkey. Che?

  2. Unfortunately, I don’t have the details of the man who went into a Spanish mens’ shop, and asked to see some gloves and some umbrellas.

    I only remember the punchline, where the assistant disappeared and returned with the manager, who asked politely:

    ‘Why do you wish to beat your horse with a parachute?’

  3. When we learned French at school, there was a lot to do about “la plume de ma tante”–also not useful.
    I only find those phrase books handy when you’re in an area where someone speaks a bit of English (or your home language) anyway and can help fill you in.
    We agree about the showers–Rod and I always figure them out (with our glasses on!) before we try to use them. Otherwise you end up with a freezing cold or boiling hot spray, or water all over the floor.

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