THE UNCHAPERONED GIRL'S GUIDE TO EUROPE
A conscientious report on all those college girls who take off for a year-long fling in Europe—to work a little, to swing a lot, and to See Life. It's not that they have anything to hide, really ...but here's what they don't write home
SHE WAS HITCHHIKING from Rotterdam to Bruges with a maple leaf stitched to her knapsack, when this Frenchman came along in a Citroen and said he was going as lar as Antwerp. Great! And when they arrived, he took her to dinner — thank heaven, because for three days she had been living on animal crackers, peanut butter and jam, and her skin was starting to get blotchy. Then they went bistro-hopping and it was enormous fun. until about 3 a.m. when he started to get lecherous and went to look for a hotel room for two. So she jumped out of the car and spent the rest of the night in the railway station at Antwerp. w'here you've never seen such weird w'eird people in all your life.
A few' days later, her parents received this postcard:
“Arrived in Bruges. The architecture is marvelous, and so is the Flemish art. Spent last night in Antwerp, a fascinating city, and went to dinner with some very nice French people I met while traveling ...”
There are thousands of Canadian girls like her, fresh-faced out of UBC and Western and U of T and Queen's and Mount Allison and all the rest, taking a year to gad around the Continent and work for a spell in London. Of course, there are some w'ho might just as w'ell have Aunt Maud along, for all that ever happens to them, but for every one of them there must be a dozen swingers doing the Grand Tour, 1967-style. It’s sort of a year-long moveable feast in which everything is wine and food and boys, and somebody always has a guitar.
They come to Europe because all their friends are getting married, and their relatives are starting to give them funny looks. I mean, here they are 21, 22 and not married yet: maybe they’re going to be old maids. Or they come because they’ve read a lot of Kazantzakis and they want to see Crete for themselves. They come because they w'ant to learn the Facts of Life (“I made up my mind before I left, 1 was going to lose my virginity in Europe”). They come because a job is so . . . well . . . committing. But a year to see Europe — that’s an education in itself, isn't it?
It used to be that the Grand Tour was only
done by wealthy American girls who would stay at the Ritz. But today anybody can go (“Hell, all you need is $500 and a return ticket, and you can earn that much during summer vacations").
These kids, the Canadian girls and the boys they meet, have developed a whole alien subculture, with its own language and rituals, sort of like coming of age in Samoa. Sure, they send postcards and letters home regularly (they don't want to upset their parents), but they write in an unconscious semi-code that only another Canadian girl abroad know's how to crack. It’s not that they have anything to hide, exactly. A lot of the girls manage to return home in the same unsullied state in which they arrived. But if the whole truth ever went into the letters home, their parents w'ould naturally assume the worst, so maybe it's better to keep them in the dark.
For example, two girls arrive in London and take a train-boat trip down to Greece. In Athens they decide to split up, and one of them writes home explaining that she has met Some Interesting People who want her to drive to Belgium. In reality. Some Interesting People is one people, male, and the two of them are going to be hitchhiking, and the whole thing is perfectly innocent, honestly (“What can you do in a youth hostel?”), but the folks back home just wouldn't understand.
As well, the girls are continually running into Friends From University and deciding to travel on to Stockholm for old times’ sake. Friends From University is usually the brother of their ex-roommate’s cousin’s best friend, w'ho goes to a university at the other end of Canada, and it took six hours of Do-you-knowso-and-so? to find a common denominator.
Do-you-know-so-and-so? is the game that all Canadian girls play when they meet another Canadian in Europe, especially a boy. If they play it long enough, they are bound to find a mutual friend: there aren’t all that many kids at any one university, and somebody is bound to know somebody. Small world, isn't it?
Then there is the institution known as the Chat Up, an entirely acceptable way of striking up a conversation with an interesting-looking stranger in American Express, a youth hostel, museum, art gallery,
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UNCHAPERONED GIRLS continued from paye 31
Boy-girl teams are ideal —but careful what you write home
beach, bar, boat, train or anywhere. Nobody knows the precise difference between a Chat Up and a Pick Up. and nobody cares. Life is short.
Suppose you are a Canadian girl, an old bag of about 21 or so. and vou're heading off to Europe for the Grand Tour. For your initiation into the cult, you have to take a boat, mainly because you have 243 pounds of luggage. But if somebody invented a complete year's wardrobe that weighed only 44 pounds, you'd still take the boat, because you never meet anybody on a plane. So you sail, usually out of Montreal, with 27 people drinking champagne wedged into your four-bunk, tourist-class stateroom ("Its mere fun in the cheapest class"), and an old boy friend sends flower', and everybody cries a little when the ship pulls away trom the pier.
And just as the ads say. halt the fun is get tin*» there. So what it three quarters of the other people are girls, and most i f the boys are pimply undergraduates? That's not counting the crew, who aren't supposed to fraternize. so you meet them at midnight in the dining room. You can even Chat Up the deckhands ("The most tremendous bunch of boys, really — they'd traveled all over the world"). People pooh-pooh shipboard romances, but everybody knows a girl who has married someone she met on the boat.
Hitchhiking à deux
There are several ways of making the Grand Tour. One is to get a ship that goes to London, wander around the city long enough to learn a lew English expressions such as w indscreen and super and loo. and then head oil to the Continent. Or you can get a ship that takes you to a lot of Mediterranean ports, and then travel inland through Europe and up to London. Some people do the work-in-London bit first, which can be dangerous: you might spend all your money on miniskirts and gas meters, and never get to
The cheapest and best way to travel is by hitchhiking ("You gel to meet the people”), but a lot of parents get upset, so it's easier to write home. "We traveled." or, "We arrived." Tour veterans know that if you want a ride in two minutes flat, it's best to hitchhike alone or with another girl. But everybody knows, except parents, that a boy-girl hitchhiking team is practically ideal. A guy can get a ride more easily it he's traveling with a girl; on the other hand, the girl doesn't have to worry about being attacked or something if she has her own male protector. Hitchhiking a deux also means that you have a built-in date when you arrive in a strange town, and don't have to worry about hustling the local talent.
The problem is. a lot of European drivers are parents too. and they don't approve of the kids traveling this way either. So the kids just say they're married, which enchants everyone and arouses their protective instincts and invariably this charming young Canadian couple gets a free meal, and an
imitation to stay the night. (One boy from UBC carted a matched set of dimestore wedding bands all over Europe — a thoughtful touch much appreciated by his three temporary "brides." )
Of course, not all girls hitchhike. Many take the train, and manage to Chat Up SIPs wherever they go. Bus
tours are not very popular. ( "Suppose you went someplace and you wanted to stay there for a while?”) Eurailpasses are popular but sometimes impractical. ("Suppose you met Friends From University who wanted you to go hitchhiking, and you'd invested all this money in a Eurailpass?") For similar reasons, very few girls rent
cars, or buy scooters or ride bicycles through the Alps, although many of the boys do.
If you have a car. the campsites in Europe are great to use. They have swimming pools, restaurants, everything. But the best places to stay are youth hostels, even if you do have to be in at 10.30 p.m. You take your own sleeping bag. or a sheet and pillowcase. It costs about 65 cents a night, and after the doors are locked you get to meet the other kids, usually
The Innocent Compromising Situation
American, German, or Aussie hoys, and a few other Canadians, and somebody always has a guitar.
The worst places to stay are listed in Europe On $5 A Day, because the whole world is trying to get a room there. There are a million jokes about $5 A Day, but everyone has a copy. If you're really tight for cash, you have an address book filled with names of friends of friends, their relatives, parents of people you went to school with, and anyone else you know of who’s actually living in Europe. When you get into town, you call and introduce yourself, and when they ask you to come for dinner, you arrive, bags and all, and most of the time they’ll insist you stay the night.
There are a lot of other ways to economize. Meals, for example. In the youth hostels, you can get a good hearty breakfast for about 45 cents — bread, cheese, salami, jam, gingerbread. and tea with sugar but no milk. That’s all some kids eat all day, and breakfast is a mad race to see how much they can stuff down. If you can’t stand skipping lunch, just shove some bread and cheese in a plastic bag while nobody’s looking — that’s what it’s there for. Also, most girls never see anything they have to pay to see. whether it’s Anne Hathaway’s Cottage or the Eighth Wonder of the World. There are more free sights in Europe than they’ll ever see in a lifetime, and there’s always somebody around to pay for the bullfights.
Usually the first place the girls hit after London is Paris, where they converge like Canada geese on the Boulevard St. Germain. The Paris youth hostel is usually crowded, but there are great little cheap hotel rooms on
the Left Bank, authentic French plumbing and everything. Paris is expensive. though, so after a couple of days everybody heads down to Spain, where all the boys have motorbikes, and you can get to work on your tan.
By the time a girl baptizes her bikini in the Mediterranean, she has usually survived at least one Innocent Compromising Situation, which can happen frequently on the tour. Like maybe she and her friend met these two Canadian hoys on the ferry from Dover tc Calais, and one of them had actually gone to the same college at U of T. There wasn't a hostel in Calais, and it was too dark to continue, and the only thing they could find was a hotel room for four. So there they were, the two girls in a bed at one end of the room, and the two boys in a bed at the other end, and their mothers would never believe it.
Other variations of the Innocent Compromising Situation include ShareThe-Sleeping-Bag, in which Hansel and Gretel get lost in the Black Forest with only one sleeping bag between them, and Five-In-A-Tent, where four girls with a car and tent pick up a boy hitchhiker, or vice versa.
The youth hostel at Nice has a better view of the Mediterranean than any of the hotels, and in the evening after lock-up everyone sits on the roof, and somebody always has a guitar. During the day you can drive or hitch or Honda to the ritzy beaches at Cannes or Monte Carlo (“Monty’’ to those who know it intimately ).
Then you travel up to Florence, where the youth hostel is the castle where Mussolini’s mistress used to live -— and hey, all the Nice crowd is here.
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guitars and everything! So everyone wanders around Florence and looks at the Ulfizi Palace and the Duomo and all lhe art — it knocks your eyes out —and buys mohair sweaters for I wo dollars apiece in the Florentine market. The place that's the best fun is the Red Garter, which is more American than Barry Goldwater, and it's all - American honky - tonk band and all the waiters and bartenders are American hoys from the Stanford school at Florence. Florence and Stuttgart are good places for meeting American hoys, because of the Stanford campuses; otherwise, it's a bad year for Americans, because of Vietnam.
Then there’s Rome, where the best place to stay is not a youth hostel, hut the Salvation Army Hotel, which sounds awful hut it’s quite nice and really cheap, and if you're lucky you gel your own little flat. The Romans think the girls are crazy, because they eat spaghetti for a main course, dessert. breakfast, everything, and everybody knows it's only an antipasto.
Very funny, the diets of these Canadian kids. Twenty-one years their parents have been obeying the Canada food Rules and building strong bodies eight ways — so here they are. eating all this crazy food, rum-and-Coke for brunch and nothing more until 10 o’clock that night when they wolf down the greasiest concoction they can find. First thing that happens, their lower intestines go haywire, and they're dyinp from constipation or diarrhea, depending on whether they’ve been eating the native fruit. The favorite topic of conversation at hostel breakfasts is the condition of everyone’s bowels. Young Canadian nurses meet a lot of boys this way.
The Italian Train Experience
Somewhere along the way a girl undergoes the Italian Train Experience. You don't have to make reservations on second class, see, so you get on the train and it’s packed with Italians, and you finally find a compartment and it’s filled with six Italians, all friends, all with as many arms as an octopus, and they keep turning off the lights, and the train doesn’t stop for 12 hours. The Italian Train Experience usually happens in Italy, although it has been known to occur in France and even Yugoslavia.
Then down to Brindisi and off on the boat to Athens, where the youth hostel is a dive, filled with dope pushers, and hey, there's the Nice crowd again, and it’s 104 degrees and you have to sleep on the roof overlooking the outdoor cinema, tight bodies all packed together, and the show is a 1957 Debbie Reynolds thing with Greek subtitles, so you watch it for a while and you drink — what is the Greek national drink anyway? — oh. yeah, ouzo, and everybody eventually flakes out. If you want a hot shower the next morning, you have to pay for it, and take it in the men's loo. and the damn shower curtain is plastic, and keeps blowing open every time a man walks in, hut everybody just laughs.
There's a great view of the Hilton
from the Acropolis. Bui there's nothing else to see in Athens, so you jump in a boat and go off to Crete or Mikonos, and this is what is known as the Greek Boat Episode. Nobody who hasn't been on a Greek boat can imagine it. but it's an old rusty tub and it's just packed with hundreds of old granny-ladies ("We called them wrinklies") all crowding onto the ricketv gangplank in their black dresses and black scarves and dead chickens around their waists, just like in Zorba The Creek. And the boat goes put-putting along, just like a motor boat, and everybody is sleeping on the deck, and all the wrinklies are sick to their stomachs, sitting there with cut lemons pressed to their noses. But these girls, these Canadian girls are up in the lifeboat, along with Some Interesting People, and they have some beer, and they're having a ball, and somebody has a guitar.
The Greek Islands are great, just like in Zorba. too. You get your own little villa for three dollars a week, and exist on bread and honey and wine and fruit. The best beach is a long white empty paradise, down past the public beach, and the beach where Julie Christie swims, and you have to go through the nudist beach to get there ("Not to worry, they’re all queers or Lesbians" ).
Then up through Yugoslavia, which smells bad. because it's a poor country, and poor countries always smell bad because of the urine. Yugoslavia is a good country for the Attempted Rape or Seduction, which, however, can happen practically anywhere in Europe. It happens because European men usually have one ol two attitudes about a North American girl:
(1) Because she is free to travel, she must he a had girl, as contrasted with the local, closely chaperoned. and therefore good girls. (Spain, Greece, Italy.)
(2) All the girls they know are pretty modern (i.e.. casual) about sex, so what's wrong with this one? (Scandinavian countries. England, France and Germany.)
Whether he has attitude ( I ) or (2). almost any time a European man takes a Canadian girl to dinner, she soon finds out what's on the menu for dessert: her. When she protests, he gets violent, putting her in a situation ranging from ditficult to terrifying ("The best thing to do is just disappear . . . Lock yourself in the ladies' room or something").
The attempted R. or S. can take place anywhere, anytime: by a Roman guide who tells a girl he wants to show her the interesting part cd the catacombs: by a mad African exchange student in the almost-empty youth hostel in Belgrade; by three equally mad peasants in Bulgaria or
In London: work and people-watch too
anywhere this side of the Iron Curtain.
Then Austria and Switzerland and Germany — where everybody you've ever met is in the Hofbräuhaus in Munich — and Holland, where you mingle with the Provos, and everybody in the Rotterdam hostel has to do his or her own little household duty, for crying out loud.
Arriving back in London, a girl with a BA can earn £15 ($45) a week as a secretary, and if she can't type, she can get £10 ($30) a week clerking at Harrods or Dickins & Jones (“It has to be a nice place, where you can people-watch”). Or she can get a job as a waitress for about seven pounds a week, and if she has a good personality, earn £15 a week on tips (‘‘The manager taught me how to ‘fiddle’ on the bills, because he wasn't paying me enough money, and I was expected to cheat him. just as long as he didn’t catch me at it").
Job-hunting in London is the second most soul-depressing thing in the world. The most depressing: flat-
hunting. If a girl is lucky, she can find a place for about five guineas ($15) a week, not including heat, hot water, etc., and pretend that she enjoys shabby furniture, rotten linoleum and freezing cold (“You can't really
understand the British until you live without central heating”).
Everybody’s poor, though, so it doesn’t really matter, and Swinging London is somewhere between a myth and a euphemism. You discover that all the With-It girls live with their boyfriends and/or take the Pill, and know where to get abortions (“It came as such a shock at first, but now I find it so commonplace. When 1 tell them, ‘Look, I don't intend to go to bed with anybody until I get married,’ they think I’m putting them on”).
But it's a good life, and everything becomes real. History becomes real, and all the things learned in school become real, and the wars become real, and movie stars, when you see them in the street. And ever after, when you read a book or see a film about London or Paris or Rome or someplace, you’ll think, “Hey. I was there.”
There's so much happening that the year goes by before a girl knows it. When she finally, reluctantly, packs up her belongings, ships them home, and catches a plane (you always fly back), people tell her how much she has changed.
Boy, she thinks, you don't know the half of it. ★