Iraqi Kurdistan by tour group and fumbling with languages

The Rapid Traveler spends more time time reading about current affairs and history than pulling from the travel section, but two recent pieces deserve special mention.

In Operation Iraqi Vacation (GQ, April 2011), Saki Knafo captures the absurdity of being in a travel group in one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Iraqi Kurdistan is considered safe enough for even the New York Times to select it as #34 of “The 41 Places to Go in 2011,” nudging ahead of Durham, N.C. (if Durham is more to taste, swing by the delectable Allen & Son next door in Chapel Hill). Mr. Knafo trades the self-absorption of much travel writing for an observant, quick wit, such as when describing his group mates:

Ingvild, for example, a 24-year-old Norwegian, had recently spent six months on a trek across Iran and Central Asia. (She claimed to speak Farsi and insisted on wearing a head scarf even in the Christian areas,
because this was “the way of the desert.”)

The Rapid Traveler is tempted to complete his ‘Axis of Evil’ tour collection.

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Attempts to communicate with language tapes and phrase books inevitably result in hilarity. In the New Yorker (July 11 & 18, 2011), David Sedaris has an adults-only romp through his misadventures of the tongue in Easy, Tiger (subscription only). One of the few choice bits printable in this family-friendly space, about speaking German:

The sounds felt false coming out of my mouth, so instead I spent my time speaking English apologetically. Not that the apologies were needed. In Paris, yes, but in Berlin people’s attitude is “Thank you for allowing me to practice my perfect English.” And I do mean perfect. “Are you from Minnesota?” I kept asking.

Readers, what are your funny stories of linguistic mishaps abroad?

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