It’s a well worn cliché that travel broadens the mind and parents who take their children to far flung places will often labour the point that it’s not so much a holiday, as "a real education". The kids, they claim, will "get so much out of the experience".
I pondered the educational value of travel when we found ourselves in the Metro station closest to the Hungarian parliament building, standing in line behind an American family with two children who were probably around the ages of ten to twelve years. We were waiting to buy a book of 10 Metro tickets, having learned that it wasn’t always easy to find somewhere to buy individual ones when you need them.
Mother was trying to buy tickets and father was having an apocalyptic sarcasm melt-down. We guessed mum was trying to buy the tourist travel cards which offer transport throughout the city and discounts on entrance to many of the attractions, but precisely what she was buying wasn’t particularly pertinent to the story.
Dad started out muttering under his breath. "Why does nobody speak English in this bloody country?" he mumbled. The kids rolled their eyes; mum looked worn out by dealing with him. She asked him a question and his volume stepped up a few notches. "I don’t know why you’re asking me" he hollered. "I don’t live here, I don’t work for the Metro". Mum looked shaken.
Glancing at the assistant in the booth, it was clear that whilst she might not speak English, she spoke ‘body language and tone of voice’. She knew he was being rude, she knew he was being aggressive, but ultimately she had what he wanted and was literally holding all the (travel) cards. She took the payment, handed over the cards and looked thoroughly fed up.
The family started to walk away and Perfect Pa turned back to her shouting "I want a map of the Metro". She slowly shook her head. "No map, sir" (though I thought the sir was perhaps more than he deserved". I turned to him and said that they only have maps on the walls. We’d not been offered one either. He exploded, his wife looked nervous "Bloody Wikipedia has a map" he said angrily. "What the hell is wrong with these people, this bloody country?" and off they stomped.
My husband stepped up to the counter, gave the assistant his biggest smile and showed her the empty ticket book so she’d know exactly what we wanted. She returned a superb smile saying "Thank you, thank you" and sold us the tickets, relieved to not have another foreign tourist make her feel stupid for not understanding what they wanted.
We went for coffee and talked about Perfect Pa, wondering if this was what he’d had in mind when he and his wife had planned to bring their children to Budapest. What would they remember when they looked back on their trip years later? Would it be the far from blue Danube, the fabulous zoo, the gorgeous old buildings, the cherry struedel and cheesecake? Or might their memory be that Budapest was the city where dad went into meltdown and shouted at the ticket seller? Would they grow up to shout at such people themselves, or might they learn that it’s really not so unreasonable for a fifty-something ticket seller who grew up under communism, probably was taught Russian as her second language, and now works a soulless job for minimum wage to not speak fluent American English?
Travel is indeed an education. Maybe parents need to think very careful about what their behaviour is teaching their kids.