Culture Shock: Lost Passports, Missed Trains and the Kindness of European Strangers

Inspirational travel experiences submitted to our Culture Shock Contest

Latte in Italy amongst friends

When we travel, there’s always the prospect of meeting unsavory types that we read about on the US Travel Warnings website: beware of petty theft, pickpockets, sexual assaults, identity theft…and on and on. We want a website that extols the good and virtuous people that many of us meet from here to there – because there are plenty of ‘em.

The following stories rely on the kindness of strangers, the makings of decades-old friendships and the goodness of humanity that were entries from our Culture Shock Contest.

John Trimble of Texas left his bag on a train in France, and to his surprise…

I accidentally left a bag on a crowded train during a rail strike in France. The shock came when my bag was recovered and I tried to pay for shipping to my home. First shock: no credit cards accepted; payment was required to be in the form of cash delivered in person or a check drafted on a French bank. Compounding shock was that I could not open an account in a French bank not being a French citizen. Eventually with the help of a friend of a relative, I got my bag back. Then I got perhaps the biggest shock of all: my bag was returned unharmed and with absolutely all contents sealed inside.

The same story happened to David Phelps of Virginia, who was pleasantly surprised to find the contents of his wallet in tact – and how caring everyone was about his well being.

I’m happy to report a very, very positive “culture shock” – a case where people went out of their way, above and beyond what I had any reason to expect. My wife and I spent a delightful two and a half weeks in Switzerland and Austria this September. At one point during the trip, my wallet with all my credit cards disappeared. Was it lifted? Did I drop it? I’ll probably never know. Fortunately my wife had a card with a different number, so we were able to keep on.

Now comes the amazingly positive part. Everyone we dealt with bent over backwards to see to it that this incident didn’t ruin our vacation. Hotels volunteered to put “room charges” on my wife’s card so we could have pocket money, and always made sure our needs were taken care of.

But the most amazing thing is yet to come. We contacted the hotel in the city where the incident occurred (I discovered that the wallet was missing just as our train for the next destination was leaving the station!) So they could contact the taxi company just in case the wallet was in the cab. Not only did they call back to confirm that they’d contacted them (it wasn’t there, unfortunately), but they called again the next day, out of the blue, just to make sure we were really ok!

That kind of hospitality and caring is the kind of positive “culture shock” that is all too rare, and deserves praise. The people of Switzerland (and Austria, of course) are wonderful. We Yanks should import a large dose of that!

Bern, Switzerland

It’s inevitable – you will lose something of importance when traveling. Carmen Arnold of Florida waited over 30 years to take her first trip out of the country, and was pretty sure she had all her bases covered – like making many copies of her passport. Alas, it went missing – but that’s when her real adventure began.

I had the most AMAZING experience of my life this past April in Monte Carlo & Provence France. I am a native of Florida and up to this point in my life I had never flown out of the country. (I’m in my 30’s.) I worked extremely hard within my current company and earned the trip as a reward for exceeding my sales goals. Because I am not married I had to fly to France solo but was lucky enough to join one of my counterparts on the way there in Germany. That eased my nerves a little. I have heard many stories both positive and negative about traveling abroad so I was just not sure what to expect, yet extremely excited at the same time. I was just sure to breathe and take it all in, and this I did. I have to say that for my first trip to Europe, Monte Carlo was definitely one of the finest places I could have experienced and for this I felt very lucky & thankful. My week went beautifully and our company took great care of us. However, a very unfortunate situation occurred near the end of the trip. I left my purse on a bus in route from Monte Carlo to Provence.

The even more unfortunate thing was that my passport was in that purse. One piece of advice that everyone gave me was to keep your passport on you at all times. I attempted to do so but with so many bags on the bus I somehow missed the most important one and ended up without a passport in the end. My dream come true quickly turned into a complete panic and a bit chaotic. I was sent by van two hours away to a city in France that I’ll just say was not the safest. Alone. I was told to make sure I was in my room by 5pm with doors locked. Everyone from my company had headed home & I was shipped to a city I knew nothing about and no one there spoke English. My family back home was all starting to get very nervous so I had to send Facebook updates, when the computers would work with me, and pretend that everything was fine. Although in my mind I wasn’t quite sure if I were going to keep it together.

Two days later after waiting outside at the US Embassy for hours I finally made it inside to apply for my temporary passport. My fingers and toes were crossed. After being inside for just 5 minutes everyone started running around and shouting. An alarm then went off & everyone was directed into an alleyway behind the building. At this point I thought I was either being Punked or just having a really bad nightmare! This was the very morning that Bin Laden was killed & they thought a bomb had been sent to the Embassy. I had two choices at this point…let this very scary and very trying situation send me to the hospital in a full blown panic attack, or just start laughing and enjoy the journey! I told myself that ‘everything happens for a reason’ and I just assumed that this was all suppose to happen. I quickly calmed my worrying mind and just enjoyed what life was throwing my way. I was told to come back in a few hours. I got my thoughts together, held my head high and went on a stroll around the city.

It ended up being the most amazing day. I met the most amazing people. Although there was a major language barrier and I was not prepared, I still managed to have conversations with some very amazing people. The French were great and extremely caring and helpful. The hotel manager even packed me a bagged breakfast at 3am when I was finally heading to the airport to head home to the states! I recommend a trip to France anytime and I can’t wait to return someday to experience more! Everyone I met was a true blessing & made my trip that much more memorable.

© Carmen Arnold’ Culture Shock Entry

Then there are the people who get on the wrong train. John Onsager of Connecticut couldn’t quite make out the announcement on the PA system at Gatwick Airport. So he took a train to the end of the line – and got a very happy (and free) return.

Upon arriving in the UK at Gatwick Airport, we decided to take the train into London. At the station, a very British voice announced apologetically that the train to London was going to be four minutes late, which was to our favor. His diction was somewhat garbled by the PA system. Laughing about how such an apology would have never occurred in the USA, we made our way to the designated track, where a train was waiting with open doors. We boarded and shortly thereafter, the train departed the station. As we were traveling along, we commented how rural it was so close to London. After an enjoyable journey, the train stopped and we disembarked and asked how to get to our hotel. It was then that we learned that we were at the end of the line, Brighton-by-the Sea. We had boarded an outbound train, while our London bound train had been delayed! BritRail let us travel back the other way for free.

Scott Bradley of Florida didn’t take the wrong train; he simply missed it all together. And in a swift instant, made a friend for life.

The large clock in Gare Du Nord wasn’t running, but it had taken me more than 20 minutes to figure that out. The Eurostar was on track and ready to depart, but I was still enjoying “café et un sandwich au jambon” outside of the shop on the second level. Suddenly I realize that the hands had not shifted and that I was in danger of missing my train to London.

I grabbed my guitar and pack, gulped the strong black café down, not knowing when my next shot of caffeine would come along, and I ran for the stair. The Eurostar is a sleek train from Paris to London via the ‘Chunnel’ and it is not inclined to depart late for one the likes of me…so with a near constant string of excuses and a pardon here or there I made my way through the crowd – just in time – to see the train depart the landing from the wrong side of the gate. This is how my first real Eurail experience began, a journey that is anchored in my memories for all of my days. While I could slow the pace a bit here, they let me take the other tack. The ticket counter told me that my pass was good for an additional 10 days, contrary to what the small print seemed to say on the letter that accompanied the roundtrip set…and it turned out that day passes were often cheaper than advance fare and sometimes round trip were less than one way. Who knew? And though London was calling I was reasonably sure it would remain generally unchanged if I did not arrive until the following week. In fact, as it turned out, it changed for the better as there had been a sanitation strike, which was settled before I got there. So, luck was obviously on my side. Instead of London, I booked a one-way to Amsterdam and took my seat in the transit cabin as we headed out. I was about to shut my eyes when two girls and a guy sat down in our clutch and began to talk in a variety of languages. Me, an English only type of guy at the time, caught little pieces of their plan to go crazy at a rock fest that night, and it wasn’t until Dawn offered me a cup of wine from their traveling bag that I realized they knew I had been listening. I gladly took the cup, and the warmth of their friendship, as I became one of their crew for our Amsterdam concert night and the two days that followed.

We learned a great deal from each other about our lives in our corners of the world, enjoyed the beauty of early summer in Europe, and set in stone friendships that have lasted more than 40 years. We have seen each other several times over the years, and though we have lost hair, gained some weight and added a wrinkle or two, we all still have that sparkle of life in our eyes and the joy of adventure and our thoughts always return to our Eurail connection from Paris to Amsterdam. And though I doubt the

Eurail tickets are as cheap as they had been then, I am certain that they will be wonderfully inexpensive when compared to other transportation options. Heck, gas in France is 9 Euros a gallon.

Live life to the fullest, find your purpose and your dream…and at least once…perhaps twice…miss the train to London in exchange for the trip of your life.

Gare du Nord Train Station in Paris, France

Finally, we thank Jerry Huber of South Dakota for his military service. After serving eight years overseas and collecting numerous, culturally rich experiences, he’s decided to move to Germany permanently – thanks to these inspiring stories.

I had many wonderful culture shock experiences, because of the opportunity to live in Europe for 8 years. I lived in Germany for 7 years and 1 year in Italy. It was all so wonderful and beautiful. The reason I was living in Europe was because I was stationed with the United States Air Force. My desire in Europe was that I was always to be respectful to the people and their customs in all of the nations that I visited and lived. I felt it important to be an ambassador of America. I believe I did accomplish that. I was able to travel one summer for 30 days via Eurail pass, what an awesome important experience in my life. It so impacted my life that to this day I am always talking about it. Including my total 8 years of living there.

Since then I have been back to France and Germany three times. My times in Europe I would consider to be a “GOLD MINE”, because it was such an awesome education to me. Learning different languages, and learning about different cultures, and also learning about where my ancestors came from, which was Germany. I had so many other wonderful experiences traveling by train. Usually every weekend I would be at the train station heading out on a new adventure, not knowing until I got to the train station where I was headed too. It was so exciting and adventuresome.

One of my most interesting experiences was the first time I ever saw a German cemetery, it was a beautiful site to see, that this site has been embedded in my mind and memory forever. It is so hard to describe the beauty that I saw. The Marble Head Stones shined as glittered with gold and there were flowers everywhere. It was like Heaven here on earth. I experienced the kindness of elderly lady in Vienna, Austria. I got lost in this huge city and she stopped to help me and gave me tram passes to use on the local tram system and also helped me find my way.

One other experience in Germany was similar to others in reference to food. Went out with a friend to visit the local pubs and in this one establishment the owner got us to try a local delicacy, which looked like raw red meat. I was real reluctant to try it, but I did out of respect to the owner. Luckily it was at the time of closing and we were leaving, so I was able to leave and not bring embarrassment to the owner or me. I say that because it was not a pleasant experience in ref to food. I did have many different positive experiences in ref to food. The village (Landstuhl) that I lived in was filled with many different eating places from all over the world. Every night I could find a place from a different part of the world to eat at.

What an exciting experience learning about the German culture and other cultures through food. One of my favorite dishes that I did learn about was escargot. The first time was quite unusual, because I never heard of eating snails. Quite unusual for a young lad that comes from a sheltered life in the State of South Dakota. Since my time in Europe I have not had them much, but always try to have them when I can. Other dish that I like so much was French Onion Soup, loved the way they made it. To this day my passion for Europe has never left me.

I am now planning to move back to Europe to live as a missionary and will again live in Karlsruhe, Germany. Thank you for letting me share my experiences that so changed my life.Jerry Huber, South Dakota

Karlsruhe, Germany

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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 16th, 2012 at 9:44 pm and is filed under Traveler Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

  • Jane

    Are these supposed to be real stories? How could Scott Bradley of Florida have missed a Eurostar connection nearly 40 years ago – it didn’t open until 1994!

  • Tony

    good catch! looks like they are not real story

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