THE EMBARRASSMENT TOUR
Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis
This is not a funny story. Okay so maybe it is – to others. However, it’s kind of hard to laugh when the joke’s on you.
I was traveling back to the States from Australia on a large passenger liner. Ahhh, those were the days – going from Point A to Point B at a leisurely pace. Stopping points along the way included many exotic ports of call such as Manila, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Hawaii.
Embarrassing situation #1 occurred in Manila. While ashore touring with my fellow shipmates, wearing my nicest white sundress (yes, this was in the days when young ladies dressed for every occasion) Mother Nature paid me a most unwanted call; right there in a magnificent church while we were admiring a monumental pipe organ.
How does a young lady ask for a tampon from a priest in a Catholic church especially when one does not speak the language? A game of charades ensued that was worthy of any TV game show, accompanied by ill-concealed snickering from my fellow travelers. A hasty visit to the bathroom and a swiped roll of toilet paper temporarily resolved one problem but not my humiliation. I could swear I heard the priest utter something about a crazy American as I backed out the door.
Next up on the Embarrassment Tour occurred in Tokyo. I was by myself this time. Perhaps my shipmates didn’t wish to be embarrassed again. They must have been prescient because sure enough – Oops I did it again. This time, needing to use the bathroom facilities and not speaking – or reading – Japanese I quickly ducked into what I presumed to be the ladies’ room at a famous Tokyo department store in the Ginza. After using the facilities, which looked extremely strange to me, I then opened the door and was met by shocked stares from several elderly Japanese men exclaiming and gesturing. I might not have spoken Japanese but I knew I was being scolded. To my chagrin I discovered that I had entered the men’s room! No wonder those toilets were so wonky … and uncomfortable!
My next, and I think my biggest embarrassment, although it would seem kind of hard to beat a game of charades with a priest, happened in Hong Kong. All of us on the ship were told that it’s custom to bargain, or haggle, with the locals.
Walking around a little shop that sold costume jewelry I spotted a lovely ring that I decided to haggle for. There were no price tags. With a look that I hoped suggested I was a seasoned haggler, I said in an imperious voice “I’ll give you ten dollars for this ring.” The shopkeeper, at first registering wide-eyed surprise, then immediately dissolved in peals of laughter, saying “Ring is only five dollars, lady.”
Unfortunately the ship’s crew had neglected to tell us that in order to haggle properly one must first wait for the shopkeeper to offer a price! End of story but the embarrassment lingers on.