Thursday, June 30, 2016

Travel agents and mullets

I want to tell you about an institution in Germany that has held on since the early 90's.  It's not the fanny pack, and it's not in-line skates, though those are both good guesses. And no, it's not the mullet either.

Tangent: Mullets also not too hard to find here, especially as you head further to the east. In German it's called a Vokuhila, which is short for Vorne kurz Hinten lang (short front, long back). German language is nothing if not practical.

The business I'm talking about is the travel agency. Shortly after moving here, I discovered that just past every bakery and hair salon, there seems to be a travel agent's office. I can think of four within a 5 minute walk from my apartment. I figured that travel agents went out of business shortly after Al Gore invented the internet.

Then I learned about Germans' affection for the package holiday. Go to any all-inclusive resort in Spain or Italy or Egypt or the Turkish coast and you'll find towels covering all the beach chairs at impossible hours of the morning, but no people on the sand. Ambitious German guests have gotten up at 6, claimed a chair for the day, and then gone back to bed.

I've gathered that Germans often have an ongoing relationship with a  travel agent, like they have with a cleaning lady or a dentist or a hair stylist to trim that Vokuhila. Sink is clogged? Call your plumber. Dreaming of Mallorca? Call your travel agent. You won't have trouble finding one. There are about 10,000 travel agents in Germany, which is like one for every 8,500 people. The only country in Europe with more travel agents (and fewer people) is Italy.

In junior high, my class went on a field trip to some kind of job training center. One of the jobs that I chose to look at was travel agent. It actually was the early 90s, and there were lots of travel agencies in places other than Germany. I liked the idea of planning trips, and loved the glossy catalogs with pictures of palm tress.  I did not like the idea of staring at a small black monitor with orange letters all day, but did think it was cool to wear a headset and talk on the phone. Looking back, I probably would have made a good travel agent.  I probably would have made a good hotel concierge too, and a decent bike taxi driver. Maybe that whole liberal arts college degree thing wasn't so important.

But since my bike taxi career was over before it began, I guess I won't plunge into the travel agent market either. I'd get too jealous of my customers for taking cool trips that I'd planned for them, while I sat in the office with a headset, an Apple computer and some floppy disks.

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About Me

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Thanks for coming to my blog. It started as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, and now has become an ongoing project. I'm an American living in Germany and trying to travel whenever I can. I write about my experiences as an expatriate (the interesting ones and the embarrassing ones), and about my travels. There are some recurring characters in this blog, particularly my husband Brian and several of our friends. The title comes from the idea that living in a foreign country means making a lot of mistakes. So the things you used to do easily you now have to try over and over again. Hopefully, like me, you can laugh at how idiotic it feels. If you have happened upon my blog, then welcome. Knowing that people are reading what I write makes me keep going. Feel free to write comments or suggestions for future posts.