I happen to be of the opinion that being black can make time in Europe more interesting. Sometimes, it’s the bad type of interesting – the (very occasional) dirty look, the certainty that the polizei boarding the train at the border will want to see your passport – but sometimes it makes for a pretty good story.
Take, for example, my visit to the fairly small and definitely very white city of Tallinn, Estonia. While there, I had the good fortune to pop into a place called “Vale Bar” on the edge of the medieval old town, a cozy establishment whose main attraction was that it seemed to have a higher proportion of locals and a lower proportion of prostitutes than your average Tallinn pub. We had just settled into some free spots at the bar and were happily talking to some German air force pilots*about Bavaria when we (well, I) caught the eye of an Estonian who had clearly had a lot to drink. At first, his particular interest in me wasn’t obvious – he asked the usual questions about where we were from, etc. My response (California**), however, made him noticeably more animated. “You?! California? You?!” Well, yes. I mean, I’m not from there originally, but it’s where I live now and besides – there are plenty of people in California who look like me.
Hopes of not having to converse with the deeply inebriated quickly faded, and the following happened:
– After being informed that I was drinking Jameson whiskey, he responded that Scottish whiskey (nb: Jameson is Irish) was “shit”, and that I should be drinking Jim Beam or Jack Daniels, or, and this was confusing, something Irish (?!).
– He then followed through on this request/demand by buying me multiple glasses of Jack Daniels. While free alcohol is always nice, this meant I needed to continue intermittently answering his shouts. Now I know how women feel when they have drinks bought for them.
– It also meant that I felt obliged to indulge his request for a photo with the two of us. The photo request has happened before, and though I think it is really very very rude unless you have just given me directions or we have been chatting happily for a while, I usually don’t mind doing it. In this case, though, I might have refused if not for the drinks, since I was seriously worried about being vomited on given his state.
– I’m glad I indulged him though, because once the photo was taken, he announced excitedly that he had “another one”, and proceeded to show me a picture of him with some other random black person. Because he is apparently a collector, which is of course awesome.
– Then he gave me an incredibly disgusting shot involving tabasco and ouzo, and also spent a lot of time informing a nearby Englishman that one of his (the Brit’s) body parts was quite tiny and flaccid. He also grabbed the breasts of a neighbouring woman whom he did not seem to know, but who also had literally no reaction (??), so… there was that. As far as I was concerned, this series of events absolved me of any obligation to purchase drinks in return – not only was he clearly already far too drunk, but he was also being a total asshole.
Soon after all this, we left the bar and headed to a different pub, satisfied that we had gotten a good dose of Tallinn flavour. And that’s what travel’s all about.
* – One of whom we would later see heading out of a different bar with one of the aforementioned prostitutes.
** – When I’m not in the Anglosphere, I generally answer the “where are you from” question with where I live, as explaining Trinidad’s existence/location over and over again is exhausting, especially to non-English speakers. One exception is with people from India, who are generally familiar with Trinidad due to cricket.