You won’t eat at McDonald’s.
I get it. You’re traveling and you want the authentic culinary experience. The thing is, sometimes you may not feel like accidentally ordering the rectum of a pig at five in the morning. It’s too early to exert that much effort into chewing. Assholes are chewy.
Sometimes a Sausage & Egg McMuffin really hits the spot. It’s pretty much the same-ish in every language, and you can always point at the picture in a pinch. Don’t beat yourself up over it. If it makes you feel any better, you’re probably still eating a pig’s anus, just in its more familiar and friendly form.
If you really want to keep it cultural, you might appreciate the “genuine” local cuisine that McDonald’s has to offer: a Bulgogi Burger in Seoul, the McArabia in Abu Dhabi, and in Madrid they even serve cerveza1. Salud!
1I’m not sure this is accurate. It’s possible that when I stumbled into the McDonald’s at 5am, I was already holding a beer which I then drank.
You’ll fall in love with an exotic foreigner.
Falling in love overseas is like a carton of milk. It comes with an expiration date. It’s highly likely that you and your new lover are not from the same country, and sooner or later one of you is going home. When the inevitable happens, you have a few options. You can toss aside the old carton and get yourself some fresh milk, you can claim lactose intolerance for a suitable mourning period, or you can ignore the “best by” warning stamped on the carton for your own protection.
Sure, I’ve seen it work for other couples. They flaunt their borderless love and multi-country work visas. Their babies come out clutching passports in their tiny dual-citizenship hands. Their how-we-met stories are pretty cool: She saved my life in a knife fight in Calcutta.
Unfortunately, Homeland Security doesn’t want you to fall in love with a foreigner. It’s too much of a threat to our national security, so they make it really hard with paperwork and denying your beloved entry to the country. You could try to find a neutral land to call home. My very exotic Canadian ex and I moved to Vietnam, where our relationship quickly soured and made us both sick. It was too hot in Vietnam for our milk.
Traveling will make you a better person.
Or it might make you a douchebag. Take for example this guy I met in Korea named “Trent.” When Trent first arrived, he was your average nice guy from Nice-town USA. Then the Korean girls started comparing him to the likes of Robert Pattinson. (Trent is a short chubby dude, nothing like a glittery vampire.)
He quickly found himself juggling a bevy of local beauties who giggled at his nonexistent jokes while looking really pretty in super short skirts. He was promoted to head English teacher even though he thought “real” was an adverb. He bought himself a scooter and refused to wear a helmet, but the police didn’t ticket him. They bought him rounds of soju instead for being so cool. Trent was living on the edge: women, power, booze, a 50cc engine. It could get to anyone’s head, really.
A few months later, I ran into a shirtless Trent at a bar.
“It’s hot,” he explained.
“It’s January,” I responded swaddled in layers of clothing.
“Heck, when you’re hot, you’re real hot.” With that, he puffed up his dough-ball chest like an arrogant cock and returned to his harem of hens.
I feel like I’m throwing Trent to the dogs. I don’t begrudge him his demi-cock status. I’m not without my own douchebag moments. Mine mostly involve the belief that I should be given free cookies because I’m foreign and special.
You’ll be on a unique and original journey.
Once while I was enjoying a semi-cold Singha at an outdoor plastic table in Bangkok, I couldn’t help but observe the table next to mine. It was a group of young 20-something backpackers all wearing the requisite uniform: baggy Thai fisherman pants and either a Chang Beer tank top, a Beer Lao tank top, or the Vietnamese gold star on a red t-shirt, which always reminds me of the Dr. Seuss story, the one about the star-bellied Sneetches.
They were a mix of Americans and Brits who enjoyed playfully mocking each other. The Americans spoke with heightened Mary Poppins voices while the Brits said ‘b-ass-ketball’ over and over in their best Forrest Gump. They sucked from the same bucket, a concoction of cheap 7/11 Thai whiskey and a more potent version of Red Bull most likely banned in the West for inducing coronary attack. They compared wounds from their recent scooter hi-jinx and engaged in a plethora of stimulating conversational topics.
Topic 1: Sweeping racial generalizations presented as truth
“The people of Vietnam are, like, so rude,” said one.
“Yeah, the people of Laos are so much better,” another agreed.
Topic 2: Who’s the bigger sucker?
“What?? No way. You paid a whole dollar for that tank top? Dude, you totally got ripped off.”
Topic 3: Pseudo-intellectual literature
“The Beach changed my life.”
Topic 4: Down with society
“So I said, ‘fuck it’. Took the year off to find myself.”
“You’ve gotta, man. I feel sorry for those bloody bastards back home,” chimed another.
“They’re all doing the same thing. And here we are. Doing something different.” And with that they all took a big celebratory suck from their bucket.
I wanted to punch these kids and then I remembered…
Ten years ago…
I’m sitting at a plastic table outside a 7/11 on Khaosan Road. What is that I’m wearing? Oh, yeah. Those are my baggy Thai fisherman pants and Chang Beer tank. A British bloke offers me a straw from his bucket. I take a sip.
“This stuff is probably banned in the West for inducing coronary attack,” I chuckle at my astute observation and faux Eliza Doolittle accent. I reach into my bag. Oh, no. Don’t do it. I want to tell my ten-years-younger self, but it’s too late. I’m already waving my dog-eared copy of Catcher in the Rye and waxing lyrical about how Holden Caulfield changed my life, and how the people of Vietnam are, like, so friendly, and how everyone at home is doing the same thing and here I am doing something so different!
This article originally appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission.