European Memoirs

By Raajeev Aggerwhil

It is funny how the mind works, or how the Bania mind works. My family visited London, Paris and Rome a couple of years back around Christmas. There are primarily three things that first come to mind about Paris; the Eiffel Tower, the Palace of Versailles and our hotel there. I had been worried about the lodging expenses in Paris because we had to book two rooms for five days. Using tools like Priceline, Hotwire, Trip Advisor, Cheap Tickets, and, I was not only able to research on the surrounding neighborhoods, I was able to get a 4-star hotel for $55 a night in the La Defense area, only 20 minutes away from the Champs-Elysees. That was definitely a highlight of our trip.

The stay in London was not too bad either. We ended up paying close to $120 a night. I was feeling guilty that maybe I paid too much but the rest of the family wanted to stay in Central London and I wanted to keep them happy. It was only for two days. Also, considering it was the day before Christmas, it was still a really good deal. What made me feel even better was that the sign on the door said the maximum rate was $520. Granted those rates are the maximum rate they can charge but seeing those figures certainly elevated my mood after paying a seemingly exorbitant amount.

My eldest son is a filmmaker and he had stayed in London for a few months. We met some of his friends. One of the interesting things I noticed was that instead of saying, “Hello, how are you?" most people greeted each other with, “Are you alright?" I think the reason is that Indian food is so common there but the British haven't gotten used to the spices yet, so they keep asking, “Are you alright?"

Another reason could be that the British did so many bad things in other countries that they are inherently insecure. To make matters scarier for them, there are so many ethnic people there: men walking around with long beards, women wearing burkas or hijabs and the rest of the population wearing grumpy faces. The native Brits are genuinely afraid so they keep asking each other “Are you alright?"

On a more serious note, we were able to save another $125 on one of the tourist attractions –Westminster Abbey. It was Christmas Eve and we had no other plans so we decided to stand in line to attend mass. You might view it as a desperate attempt by a bunch of Hindus to avoid going to hell. It was not. It was a desperate attempt to see some tourist sites for free. Having learned this valuable lesson in London, we were able to replicate our divine experience in Paris. We stood in line to attend New Year's Eve mass at the famous Church of Notre Dame and enjoyed its magnificence for free.

I had heard some horror stories from friends that they had their wallet and passport stolen on their European trip so we were extra careful. We left our passports at the hotel, emptied the contents of the wallet and left it in the locker in the room. I had carried an extra wallet for this trip. I decided to put my regular wallet with a couple of credit cards and enough cash for a day in my front pocket. Just for fun and to test out the finesse of the pick pockets of London, Paris and Rome, I walked with my empty wallet dangling out from my back pocket. No takers. I was so disappointed!

Earlier this year, my wife and I made a quick trip to Barcelona. We had never been there and it was a lot of fun. The narrow streets of Barcelona reminded me of the streets of Old Delhi, except they were cleaner and had no cows. On the second day, we took the metro from the La Rambla area where we were staying to La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi's renowned unfinished church. Just before our stop, I noticed a young gentleman with a moustache who reminded me of my brother in his younger days. I told my wife to take my picture with him in the background.

After we got out of the metro, when I felt my back pocket, I realized that my wallet had been stolen. It definitely was my brother look-alike who must have inferred that we were tourists. It was my real wallet with my driver's license, credit cards and cash. I had no one else to blame but myself. It was stupid to pose for a picture in a metro considering the excellent track record of pickpockets of Barcelona. I had also become complacent from my last “uneventful" European trip that I did not bother to bring a fake wallet this time. I didn't even take the precaution of putting my real wallet in my front pocket. The only consolation I had was that I had the wisdom of emptying the contents and leaving only a couple of credit cards, driver's license and about 50 euros. It was a loss but it could have been a lot worst had it not been due to my ingrained habits of being a Bania.

The lesson from these trips is that when you travel, especially overseas, you have to be an informed traveler and you have to exercise caution. Follow the tips from wise travelers, like dressing up like locals, not projecting a lost or confused look and not attracting attention in common places like metros by taking pictures. The key is to outsmart the bad guys. Be a hawk and watch your wallet – literally and metaphorically. It's not too difficult, especially when you have tools at your disposal, like Google, Priceline and a fake wallet.


Los Angeles-based comedian Raajeev Aggerwhil has starred in Nickelodeon's TV show 100 Things to Do Before High School and also acted in the film based on the television series.