THE CULTURAL TIGHTROPE
Clear as mud
the natives of that country appear to be on a different plane altogether I’d entered a Terry Gilliamesque fantasy world where very little was as it seemed
I often think a huge gulf must exist between the thought processes I follow and those of my native co-residents of Catalonia, which is where much of the content of this column has come from over the years, but I’ve just returned from five days in Andorra, and I have to say that the natives of that country appear to be on a different plane altogether.
Here’s a conversation I had with a young lady in charge of tourist information near a lake:
Me: Hi, how long does it take to walk around the lake?
Tourist info girl: It depends how fast you walk.
Me: Yes, of course, but how far is it?
Tourist info girl: I don’t know.
Me: Oh, it’s just that I’m trying to decide how much to put in the car park meter, because you have to pay in advance for how long you think you’ll be here... I mean is it like an hour, two or three hours?
Tourist info girl: As I said, it depends how fast you walk. Maybe half an hour. But I don’t think you need to put more than an hour in the car park meter, it’s not a big lake.
Me: Well we were thinking we might stay for lunch, and also there’s a zipline at one end of the lake, right?
Tourist info girl: Yes.
Me: Can you just do the zipline, or do you have to do a whole circuit, like climbing trees and stuff?
Tourist info girl: I don’t know, I’m only tourist information...
Me: Look, I just need some help to decide about the parking meter...
Tourist info girl: I wouldn’t put a lot of money in that, I don’t think they’ll fine you if you go over the time.
Me: They won’t fine me if I stay longer than I’ve paid for?
Tourist info girl: I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure...
I’ll stop here, but suffice it to say that this conversation went on for some time and didn’t really get me anywhere nearer the information I was looking for. What I found most bemusing was that most of my conversations seemed to be in a very similar vein the whole time I was in Andorra. No one really seemed very sure of anything.
And just to round off our lake visit, when we returned to the car park, where I had ultimately put lots of money in the machine, not trusting the info I’d received, my travel companion and I headed over to the restaurant, where we were greeted at the door by a big Russian bear of a man, who seemed to speak little Spanish and no Catalan. So I asked what language he preferred, to which he said “Russian”. Then a woman appeared – also Russian – and proceeded to inform us that they did not have any of the dishes on the printed menu, replacing each one with another – less appetising – option as we painstakingly made our way through the menu.
On our final day, the host of our AirBnB pointed out that the country was heavily reliant on tourism. That very obviously being the case, I suggest they invest in a little training of those people who come into contact with actual real-life tourists, as the impression I got from my visit was that I’d entered a Terry Gilliamesque fantasy world where very little was as it seemed.