Perfect Strangers

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This blog entry about the events of Friday, July 23, 2004 was originally posted on July 31, 2004.

DAY 279:  There was an American sitcom in the 1980s called Perfect Strangers about the mishaps of an American in Chicago named Larry who took in his estranged Mediterranean sheep-herding cousin named Balki who suddenly appeared on his doorstep one day.  In 1989, Perfect Strangers went into daytime syndication so that teens on their summer vacation like me had something to watch in between morning game shows and afternoon cartoons.

I still remember the first day it came on WABC Channel 7 New York at noon, when they played the pilot episode where Balki shows up at the doorstep of his Cousin Larry’s apartment — not because it was a rerun of the origin of popular 80s catch phrase “Don’t be ridiculous” (said in thick, Greek-like Meeposian accent) — but because halfway into the episode the doorbell rang.  On my doorstep were two guys, one named Hans-Georg who was claiming to be my cousin from Germany.

Ha ha ha.  What is this, TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes or something?

Hans-Georg and his friend Rainer said they were traveling cross-country through the States from New York to L.A. and were looking for some trustworthy family assistance since they had missed their tour bus.

Don’t be ridiculous.

I called my mother at the office to tell her the strange turn of events of my usually lazy summer days.  “Oh, that’s Hans-Georg!” she said over the phone.  He was the son of my mother’s Filipino cousin Tony, who had moved to Germany, got married and started a family with a southwestern German woman named Ursula in the 1960s.

Wow, we have German relatives? I thought.  When your ancestry comes from a Third World Catholic country, it’s hard to keep track of relatives.  I swear I needed five times more room than other students in my class when we had to draw a family tree.

My mother came home and formally introduced the two of us estranged second cousins, and so, it was the first time I met Hans-Georg in my memory — although my mom had a picture of the two of us together as young children.  Three years later after that summer in 1989, I had gone to Germany to visit him and his brother and parents.  Seven years later he came to visit in the States, this time with a wife and a two-year-old daughter.

It was “my turn” to visit, not to Germany, but to his new home in Luxembourg, the tiny country about the size of Rhode Island sandwiched in between Germany, Belgium and France.  With my iBook and first class Eurail Pass I hopped on the early InterCity Express from Berlin to a stopover in Köln (known in English as Cologne), home of Germany’s oldest Gothic cathedral and birthplace of supermodel Heidi Klum, and proceeded by the Mossel River another three hours across the border and into Luxembourg City.  I was in the head car in first class and I saw Hans-Georg and family whiz by waiting for me in the middle second-class section of the train.

“He’s not going to be in first class,” Hans-Georg’s wife Tatjana told him.  But sure enough, a scruffy looking Filipino-American in desperate need of a shave and a haircut came walking down the platform from the head car.

“Hello!” I said as I approached them.  They welcomed me to their home country and asked me about my ride in.  “Great,” I said.  “I think the standard Eurail Pass for people over twenty-six is first class.”

“Is that a joke?” Hans-Georg asked.  He thought I was being ridiculous.

“That’s what they gave me.”

Next to Hans-Georg and Tatjana was their now seven-year-old daughter Deborah, who had sprouted like a tree since last I saw her as a toddler.  I don’t think she remembered meeting me when she was younger, and so, there I was before her, a new face of her father’s father’s cousins’ son.  I think that means I am her second cousin once removed, or third cousin, or great second cousin or something like that — but to make things simple we were “cousins” nonetheless. 


LUXEMBOURG CITY, LUXEMBOURG’S CAPITAL, isn’t a big city at all.  With a population of just 84,000, it’s more like Luxembourg Town.  In the short ten-minute drive across town, I noticed that most of the signs were in French.

“Some people speak only French, some German,” Tatjana told me (in English).  “Every day you wonder what language to speak.”  A country populated with mostly German or French ex-pats, each one usually started conversation in their home tongue and switched if it didn’t match the other party — unless they spoke Luxembourgish, a “low” dialect of German with some French influence.

“Moyen!” Deborah said.  Saying “hello” was her way of showing off her Luxembourgish.  Apparently it wasn’t taking long for her to accept me as family.  Soon it was me who was on her doorstep, looking for a place to crash.

The apartment was a nice little place, spacious enough for the family of three, with its roomy living room.  In the dining room I had a home cooked meal — the first I’d had in a long time — over glasses of fine Luxembourg wine and conversations with Hans-Georg and Tatjana.  Deborah, who was too tired to even finish her food, went to bed in her parents’ room relatively early.

That night I slept in Deborah’s room (picture above).  Like Cousin Larry on Perfect Strangers, she had given it up the comforts of her own space for a vagrant cousin that had come to her doorstep — a real life perfect stranger.  Everything had come full circle — and I didn’t even have a catch phrase.






Next entry: What’s A Motto With You?

Previous entry: House of Superheroes




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Comments for “Perfect Strangers”

  • HEY ALL…  Here’s two more for you… Thanks for being patient…  Fortunately I’m traveling with my friend Sam right now, an architect from San Francisco, who makes it a point to take time off to sketch buildings—giving me room to breathe (i.e. Blog)...

    Stay tuned for more!  I hope to have at least three more entries before I leave for Siberia on Tuesday…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/31  at  02:25 PM


  • i think aside from catching up on all the FABULOUS things youve done and seen, and knowing that youre well on your travels, of course - my favorite parts of your blog are the photos: of places i will most likely never see in my lifetime! lol. wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/31  at  03:45 PM


  • The LUXFAM pic doesn’t work, FYI.

    I like those pics from the train - It’s SOOOO green!

    Glad you found family elsewhere. When I eventually get to the EU, I have no family there… and I’m about 99.9% sure that no one will be there when I do make it - Lucky duck. Can’t wait to read about Moscow (broken record, I know) - but take your time.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/31  at  07:02 PM


  • Hey Erik-

    Your enthusiasm about the Bauhaus-Archive Museum reminds me of when I was living in Europe and there was this modern furniture studio/store in the town that I lived in… I certainly couldn’t afford anything in the store, but I was happy just being allowed to walk around and look…. which I did many many times.  I tried taking some friends there once-maybe it was a mistake of taking a group-but everyone sort of looked at me like I was nuts… I suppose you can’t expect everyone to share your enthusiasm, eh?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/31  at  08:15 PM


  • Erik,
    I hope you were out of Prague before the bomb went off today.  What is your twenty?
    I think us blogreaders need to know you’re alright.

    Posted by Szlachta  on  07/31  at  09:39 PM


  • I _think_ that Erik is in Moscow now…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/01  at  01:53 AM


  • who wants to do the dance of joy?

    i too remember that day…and eating a bonzana’s that nite…man…that place was the shizz…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/01  at  07:54 AM


  • Great writing.  I wouldn’t be able to make a story about meeting relatives interesting unless it involved a scandal, but you got me hooked.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/01  at  04:13 PM


  • I loved Balki!  That show was great!

    Posted by Liz  on  08/01  at  06:12 PM


  • that’s a cute drawing of a bird on the bookshelf in Deborahs room!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/01  at  07:18 PM


  • Thanks for your quick answer Erik, I know the RTW ticket vs individual ticket is a big debate. I won’t even be able to do a trip until at least next summer, but thinking about is helping me through the day, as is your blog.
    PS: I have a very cute Philipino friend I can set you up with, if and when you make it home… wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/01  at  07:35 PM


  • ah, perfect strangers! how funny is that smile glad to hear your enjoying germany. it’s always good to have family in unfamiliar places. nothing too much exciting going on here in CO. but robin did remind me that it’s her one year anniversary! which means i’ve been here in CO for one full year!
    N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/01  at  07:57 PM


  • Just to let you know you are doing a great job.  Have been keeping up with this blog for months and it has been a factor in this metro New Yorker’s decision to take a RTW trip commencing in September 2004.  Keep it up!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  02:07 AM


  • I remember Balki! I used to watch that show with my mom back in the day…

    Erik, please don’t let our demands stress you out. Your Blog is so enthrawling, it’s like a drug. It’s just our withdrawal talking.

    NOELLE: You asked what everyone is doing with their summer weekends. I’ve been cottage leeching off my friends up north as much as possible! Today was a civic holiday. So I spent my three day weekend camping, tubing and wakeboarding at my friends place in cottage country about 2h north of the city.

    Not as exciting as Vegas, but fun none the less.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  05:01 AM


  • A civic holiday? What’s that? (aka, I don’t get those - SHARE!) That sounds great!! I love the fresh water, but don’t get the chance to be around it much while living in LA… oh well…

    I second Td0t’s comments - it is like a drug - don’t let us addicts stress you out. smile We just neeeeeed it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  08:02 AM


  • MSBX:  Welcome… thanks for breaking the silence… Glad I could be of some service…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/02  at  10:58 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
What’s A Motto With You?

Previous entry:
House of Superheroes




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

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The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

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1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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