Yo homies, below is a wealth of knowledge worthy of your attention. No matter what level of skier you are, getting to Europe to race should be on your priority list and my quadralingual-athlete-traveler-extroardinaire pal Chis has a few pieces of advice for all of us (along with a few Annie additions, in italics). Read, absorb, appreciate.
Three Key Cultural Tidbits Americans Should Know Before Competing Abroad in Europe
We’ve all been there before. On the ground in a new country for just a few hours and already noticing that some things are simply… a bit off. Did that stranger just refuse my handshake and instead kiss me four times? Is that 77-year-old woman next to me on this beach taking her top off…? (I mean, there are worse things) Why is the cashier screaming at me for not having weighed my carrots before I started to check out?!
Athletes in general tend to thrive on precision—hitting a split down to the millisecond; squatting an exact amount of weight and then recording it moments later; sleeping a minimum number of hours every night leading up to a big race. Whenever you leave the good U S of A, there are inevitably going to be unexpected things that shock you. Wrenches in your precision that your American routine does not leave room for. Traveling abroad, all bets are off and the vast ambiguity that travel brings can be tough for some athletes to cope with. Below you’ll find a few cultural differences to note between the U.S. and Europe so that you have fewer “Oh-my-god-Grandma’s-topless!” moments next time you step off a plane!
- Hydration isn’t a priority for most people outside the U.S. If you’re the type of person who needs to down eight Nalgenes a day to be feeling good, don’t look for solidarity from most of the rest of the world. Throughout Europe you’ll have to pay for bottled water at many meals so being properly hydrated at you’re normal level has you looking to spend just as much on H20 at a given dinner as you would on your gourmet Italian dish. Not cool.
- Drink heavily in the morning (we’re talking water here but if you have an off day then you may bench the Nalgene and start with a pint.) Before you leave your home/hostel/hotel/dwelling, make sure you’ve got at least a few bottles of FREE water already in your body.
- Ain’t nobody trying to get ripped off (pureachhhh #skierbudget) so make sure you buy cheap water bottles from a grocery or convenience store. Stopping for lunch at a café and having to drop 3,50€ on Evian is going to hit you right where it counts.
- Most places have water fountains! Just have to seek them out. This past summer a little French boy saw me filling up a Nalgene from a water fountain and responded: “C’est dégueulasse!” (“That’s revolting!”)…sorry lad, but if it’s potable, I’m drinking it! Take the snobbery with a grain of salt and as long as you’re in a fairly modernized/developed city, chances are that water is fair game.
2. The American athlete diet may be harder to follow than you think. Our intrinsic craving to make our 2nd grade teachers proud and hit the whole damn pyramid (or wait, now they’ve changed it to a plate #thanksObama) is definitely not what you will find overseas. Although there are healthy options wherever you go, portions will generally be much smaller and have fewer veggies. Processed food does not get the same red flag over yonder, especially in the UK and Eastern Europe (AKA the mayonnaise capitol of the world).
- Grocery stores are the move. If you need a set, balanced meal in order to perform well, save the “cultural experimenting” for after you compete and stick to what you know prior to that. Crapping your pants halfway through a race is a rough way to realize that eating the local goose stew might have been a better move for another day.
- If you have any token items that you cannot compete without, make sure you bring them abroad with you. I’ve always been banana-dependent for track races but smuggling tropical fruit across borders is typically frowned upon so I’m talking more about items like protein bars, granola or peanut butter. (You can survive an entire race weekend eating nothing but HoneyStinger waffles. Trust me.) The latter is impossible to hunt down once you leave the ‘Murica so stow some of that Jif next to your underwear and spandex ASAP.
- If you do go out to eat in a restaurant, remember that tipping outside of the U.S. is not much of a thing. If you leave anything more than a euro or two, you will be leaving them a nice and unexpected little something something. If you forget this and go and add 20% to your bill, that waiter might not say anything until you leave but then promptly celebrate and/or quit his day job.
- Also, when you’re eating in-house at an inn, take the time to google translate your eating restrictions and tell the innkeeper, (ciao, maestro, sono, um, gluten-free?) and then expect them to be completely ignored. Know the food words that you can eat so you can ask, but have emergency stores in your pack, just in case you’re in a country that survives off gluten infused, peanut encrusted pork (hello, Rogla).
3. Life tends to move much slower when you leave the United States. When you step outside in the morning, unless you’re in a massive city like London or Paris, you’re not going to find the crazy rushing and stress of getting to places at precisely 8:00 am that is so dominant in American culture. This is GREAT! You seldom receive death threats if you bump into someone by accident AND the chances of them bursting into tears or stabbing you are probably statistically lower than those for NYC. So what does this “chiller” pace of life mean for you? As a rule of thumb, expect everything you have planned to run about 12 minutes late. Bus is supposed to pick you at noon? Not pulling up to the station before 12:10…and then give the driver time to hop out and take in an espresso. **Note: the same does not apply for race start times. Sometimes those suckers go off early and no one knows why. Be prepared, boy scout.
***All aforementioned rules about tardiness can be disregarded if you find yourself in the following nations: Germany. Switzerland.
With all of this in mind, go forth and conquer! Stay hydrated, eat well, leave time for the lack of haste in other cultures and just enjoy the ride (that is, if the bus ever comes…)
-Chris Veasey | www.languageblast.com