Funniest Thing for August

Tell ITN about the funniest thing that ever happened to you while traveling in a foreign country. There are no restrictions on length. (ITN prints no info on destinations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.) The ITN staff will choose each month’s winner, who will receive a free one-year subscription to ITN. Entries not chosen cannot be acknowledged.

This month’s winner is LOIS HALUNEN of Livermore, California:

After arriving at our hotel in Beijing, a couple whom we met while coming from the airport wanted to go out and find a bottle of wine to have with their dinner; they had the name of a particular brand that someone had recommended to them. We said that we would see them later and off they went.

They found a wine shop nearby and carefully sounded out the name of the wine they wanted. That drew a blank look from the clerk, who spoke no English, so they started a typical traveler’s pantomime, pointing to bottles and repeating the only Chinese phrase they knew, the name of the wine.

After a few minutes of this, the clerk’s face brightened and he said a different phrase and pointed down the street to another store. The shoppers thought that must be how the name was said in Chinese, so they asked him to repeat it and memorized it phonetically.

Arriving at the next liquor store, the couple repeated the words they had just learned, but it drew another blank look from the clerk. More pantomime and gesturing ensued, and finally the clerk repeated the phrase and indicated they should go across the street to yet another wine shop.

They gamely went through their routine at the next shop but got the same blank look. Giving up, they picked a random bottle off the shelf, paid the clerk and headed back to our hotel for dinner.

Handing the bottle of wine to the waiter, who spoke English, they explained that they had been searching for a different brand but had no luck at three stores. The waiter asked what they had asked for and they repeated the phrase they had memorized.

He told them, “You just said, ‘We don’t have any’.”