A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday, by Tim Roxborogh.
Years ago I was seeing a German girl who was mortified I knew not just her little secret, but the secret of most of her countrymen. That is, that sensible, efficient, no-nonsense Germans all do the exact same thing on holiday. Irrespective of how late they've stayed up the night before, regardless of whether it's a beach in Spain or in Thailand, they will set their alarm early to go and secure a sun lounger by the pool. Once a towel and maybe a book have been positioned, it will be back to bed for another couple of hours' sleep.
"What!? You know about this?" She was incredulous, something not eased when I told her the whole world knew about it. As much as it's either funny or annoying as a cultural trait, the sociological reasons behind why and how an entire nation gets up early to put towels down on sun loungers are intriguing.
So I quizzed her. "Were you taught this at school?" "Did your parents teach you?" "Does it not seem selfish?" How early can you put the towels down without it being rude (or yesterday) to other Germans? She couldn't remember when she'd learned to towel* (verb) sun loungers, most likely because she'd been towelling sun loungers before she could talk. It would be wonderful to track down a German who could say with complete veracity that their earliest childhood memory is helping parents put the towels out. I'm sure they exist.
As to whether it struck her as being selfish, that never occurred to her. It was sensible and that was that. Which is perhaps as deep as my sociological digging into the matter goes, though more recent googling suggests that Brits - who frequently list German towelling of sun loungers as their number one travel bug - may have found the answer.
According to some research circulated back in 2012 in publications like the Daily Mail, Germans sleep an average of eight fewer minutes a night than their British counterparts and are also less likely to hit the snooze button for as long when the alarm sounds. In short, they're better at getting out of bed. Perhaps the origin of the expression "you snooze, you lose" is a German one related directly to sun lounger-nabbing. If it is, I've helpfully translated it for you: wenn du einschlafst, verlierst du.
*A pleasant bastardisation of verb usage to echo Olympic Games commentators saying "to medal".
Buying Billabong board shorts only to find they're "Big Father"
I confess, in my younger days I bought my fair share of knock-off goods when travelling through Asia. I'm not proud of it and I've kicked the habit, but when you're 23 it's hard not to get excited by how far your baht goes, especially if what you're buying is a copy.
One time when trawling through the stalls on Khao Sanh Rd in Bangkok I came across some Billabong board shorts at a spectacular price, even for Thailand. There was little need to barter and I proudly wore those little plaid doozies on and off for the next couple of weeks.
Then one day I noticed that the massive "Billabong" logo sprawled down one leg didn't spell Billabong. What? This wasn't like the "Carfield" T-shirt I had as a child, nor the "Star Wart" knock-off Lego I'd buy in China years later. In both those cases, only one letter was different from the original. This time, the two words weren't even close.
Somehow, the scrawl of logo on my shorts that looked at a glance identical to "Billabong" said nothing of the sort. "Big Father". For two weeks, I was "Big Father" without knowing it. Unbelievable! I was embarrassed until I embraced the ingenuity of whoever came up with it.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two, Coast Soul on Coast and writes the music and travel blog RoxboroghReport.com