And now for our feature The Dumbest Thing I Ever Did, where Thrill staffers remember their fondest (and dumbest) memories. Click here for more in this series.
Sophomores have just turned in their abroad applications for next year, so I’ve heard a lot of buzz from underclassmen recently about their hopes and dreams for their semester out in the big bad world. In a lot of ways, I’m pumped for you kiddos–my time abroad last semester was amazing, and I came away with a lot of new ideas, new friends, and new pictures to use for my Facebook header whenever I feel like it’s been the same for too long (oh yeah that is a picture of me in a castle–I’m just soooo well-travelled). But I also kind of want to sit y’all down and make sure you know that you’re just as likely (if not more so) to have awkward and embarrassing experiences in another country as you are on your home turf.
Going abroad is a mixed bag: sometimes you have a phenomenal experience taking tequila shots with strangers at a Dutch queer party, and sometimes you accidentally put sugar in your pasta at a fancy restaurant and end up eating an entire goddamn plate of sugar pasta.
Let me set the scene for you: after a long, hard day of classes and lectures and avoiding strangers’ eyes on the U-Bahn (subway etiquette is universal), my friends and I decided we should treat ourselves to a night out in Berlin. There was a nice-looking Italian restaurant not too far from my friend Kacey’s homestay, so we dropped off our backpacks, spruced up a little, and headed out to drown our sorrows in some “not authentic but maybe closer to authentic because Germany’s closer to Italy?” Italian food.
Up until the food arrived, I was having a pretty fantastic time at the restaurant. They had given us breadsticks (my weakness), I had ordered a glass of red wine (taking advantage of Europe’s drinking laws was still new enough to be exciting at that point), and everyone was complaining about the Foucault reading we’d been assigned (love ya beau, but sometimes you need to calm it down a little). I had been more interested in getting Indian food when dinner plans were first proposed, but as we waited at the restaurant, I became more and more pleased we’d chosen Italian. All I needed in the world–the only thing that could make the night even more perfect–was the plate of fettuccine alfredo I was awaiting with bated breath.
When my dreams were finally answered and the waiter brought out our meals, there was only one thing missing–the parmesan. I did a quick scan of the table and saw something that–well honestly, looked like a sugar shaker. But I was proud of myself for being a mentally flexible individual after a month in Europe; I knew that cultures did things differently, and sometimes one culture’s sugar shaker was another culture’s parmesan shaker. So I looked at this “sugar shaker” for about two seconds and figured that, yeah, under the (very illuminating) glow of the candlelight, I could definitely tell it was filled with parmesan instead of sugar. Having come to this conclusion, I quickly snatched it up before anyone else at the table made the same deduction.
Pleased by my own extraordinary intelligence, I began to dump a large amount of “parmesan” onto my pasta. And I don’t want to downplay the situation here–I love parmesan. There are some humans and bears I would fight on a battlefield if it meant I got unlimited access to parmesan. So believe me when I say that this was no fairy dusting of “parmesan.” No sir. I took the “parmesan” shaker into my hands and went white Christmas all over that plate of pasta.
By the time I was satisfied by the “parmesan” to pasta ratio (generously, 1.5 to 1), I heard one of my friends asking the waiter for some parmesan as he set down her plate of food. I smirked to myself as I glanced down at the “parmesan” shaker in my hand. I was obviously the superior foreign restaurant-goer; I had already cracked the system and achieved cheesy bliss.
The waiter nodded to her and looked over the rest of the table. I watched as his gaze zeroed in on the “parmesan” shaker in my hand. I prepared for what he was going to say next; obviously some variant of “the parmesan is right there!” and then I would laugh charmingly and say something along the lines of “yeah, I beat her to it!”
I even started speaking my part, saying “I know, I have the parmesan” jokingly, only to stop halfway through when I realized something was very wrong. The waiter’s face changed dramatically as he looked from the “parmesan” shaker in my hand down to my “parmesan”-covered pasta. His eyes widened, his mouth gaped. The color drained from his face. I have never seen an expression of such heartbreak on anyone before or since that day. And then, he opened his mouth and said those two damning words:
There was a beat of silence before my friends (like the jerks they are) started laughing uproariously. I tried to play it off like it was fine, even as the waiter continued to stare at me in horror. I knew better than to ask for another plate; this was Europe, after all–you can’t even get a glass of water at a restaurant and not expect to shell out some money. And given that the restaurant was expensive and I was set on buying tiramisu for dessert, I wasn’t going to spend any more money on a doever dinner.
So I gritted my teeth, mixed the sugar into my pasta, and literally swallowed my pride.
I remember it actually tasting pretty okay, but I’m not sure if I genuinely thought that or just forced myself to believe it to get through the awful experience. Whatever the truth is, all of you going abroad take my mistake as a warning: never get cocky.
And for God’s sake, double check everything. Even if you think you’re being ridiculous. Better to be safe than eat an entire goddamn plate of sugar pasta.