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Last night, while reading David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, I came across his essay “Six to Eight Black Men,” a travel essay about the Netherlands’ version of the Santa Claus story. Not only was it hilarious, it was the best piece of travel writing I’ve read in a while. I think travel writers can get too bogged down in the magnitude of their experiences and they forget that the most interesting stories about their time abroad can be the conversation they had with a local on their walk to the train station. It’s important to keep in mind that most of an individual’s travel experience is a very personal experience and not everything is going to resonate with an audience in the same way it did with the traveler. Rather than wax poetic about his experience admiring The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum, Sedaris selects an incident from his travels that conveys the real value and rewards of travel.

Firearms aren’t really an issue in Europe, so when traveling abroad, my first question usually relates to barnyard animals. “What do your roosters say?” is a good icebreaker, as every country has its own unique interpretation. In Germany, where dogs bark “vow vow” and both the frog and the duck say “quack,” the rooster greets the dawn with a hearty “kik-a-riki.” Greek roosters crow “kiri-a-kee,” and in France they scream “coco-rico,” which sounds like one of those horrible premixed cocktails with a pirate on the label. When told that an American rooster says “cock-a-doodle-doo,” my hosts look at me with disbelief and pity.” (Sedaris, 158)

[On the difference between American and Dutch Christmas stories…] “We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, “Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before going to bed. The former bishop of Turkey will be coming tonight along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you into a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just preten ot kick you. We don’t know for sure, but we want you to be prepared.”

This is the reward for living in the Netherlands. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution—so what’s not to love about being Dutch?” (Sedaris, 163)

–Sedaris, David. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. New York: Back Bay, 2005.

Click here to listen to Sedaris narrating the full essay which originally appeared in Esquire Magazine.

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