We've got some important travel tips, Mr. President, so listen up: Keep plenty of Marlboros handy and don't mention the war.
FOR THE PRESIDENT’S EYES ONLY
From: White House Travel Office
Re: Your first-ever trip to Europe
Dear Mr. President:
On the eve of your historic five-day, five-nation trip to Europe, we’ve prepared this backgrounder to help make your journey an enjoyable and successful one.
Before laying out your itinerary, a few general comments. First, relax. Even though you’ve never been to Europe before, you’ll find it’s very much like America, only smaller and less advanced. There are McDonald’s in every European country, American movies playing in all the theaters and Marlboro is the No. 1 cigarette on the continent. Although most Europeans speak a foreign language, many can be convinced to speak English if you’re persistent and speak slowly and loudly. Especially loudly.
One of the biggest differences between America and Europe is the money. Europe has less of it. Also, European money looks very different than American money, and some of it isn’t even green. Try not to refer to it as “funny money,” as this is a sore subject with many Europeans. Your American Express card will be honored in all of the countries you are visiting, except possibly for Slovenia (we’re still checking on this). If you find yourself without cash or credit cards, many European merchants will accept payment in Marlboros.
June 12: Madrid, Spain
At approximately 2130 GMT (3:30 in the afternoon Austin time) Air Force One will touch down in Madrid, Spain. Spain is a modern industrialized country with a population of 40 million people and a gross domestic product of $677 billion. The country’s climate is mild, and the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. The people of Spain speak Spanish, one of the two languages you speak. (The other is English.) Avoid referring to the Spanish people or their language as “Mexican,” even though you will find them very, very similar. Spanish food is also very much like Mexican food, although the Spanish do not have nachos. We will be providing them for you.
The capital of Spain is Madrid, the city you will be visiting. In your off-the-cuff remarks to the Spanish press and dignitaries, you may want to tell them how much you are enjoying “your magnificent capital city.” This will help establish your credentials as an informed world leader. Take care not to bring up World War II at any time during your stay in Spain, since Spain was neutral during the war and probably would have come in on the Nazi (losing) side if it had fought. Also, Spanish fly does not actually come from Spain, nor is it really an aphrodisiac, so it’s probably best to avoid this subject altogether during your visit.
June 13: Brussels, Belgium
At 0930 GMT (4:30 in the morning in Austin), you will land in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Belgium is a modern industrialized country of 10 million people with a gross domestic product of $243 billion. Belgium’s chief export is waffles. Brussels is world-renowned for its Brussels sprouts, known locally as “sprouts.” They are considered a delicacy and are served at every meal, often as a topping on waffles.
The people of southern Belgium are known as Walloons, and speak French; those in the north are Flemish and speak Dutch. Most Americans consider this needlessly confusing and find it easier just to speak English until someone responds. The Walloons are a fat, jovial people while the Flemish are not as unhealthy as they sound.
Brussels is the headquarters of the European Union, making it “the Washington, D.C., of Europe.” It is home to thousands of bureaucrats, government officials and politicians, all of whom think they know how to govern Europe better than local authorities. There is no Beltway around Brussels, but there should be. During your visit to Brussels, you will meet with heads of state from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO (pronounced NAY-TOE). Here, you will likely hear complaints about U.S. plans to build an impenetrable defense shield against missile attacks from rogue nations. In your rebuttal, try to avoid mentioning World War II, as Belgium was invaded by the Nazi (losing) side, and didn’t so much win the war as survive it.
June 14: Göteborg, Sweden
At 1300 GMT (8:00 in the morning in Austin) you will land in Göteborg, Sweden. Sweden is a modern industrialized country with a population of 9 million and a gross domestic product of $250 billion. The chief exports of Sweden are pornography (dirty books, magazines and movies), furniture you have to assemble yourself with a tiny wrench and Swedish meatballs, known locally as “meatballs.”
The people of Sweden speak Swedish, although they’ll readily converse in English if there’s money involved. The Swedish currency is known as the krona, pronounced like the Mexican beer you used to drink, Corona. The drinking laws in Sweden are quite lax by American standards, and it is not at all uncommon for teenagers to enjoy an alcoholic beverage in public. Be advised that your daughters will be accompanying you on this portion of your trip.
The city you will be visiting is Göteborg, also known, for some reason, as Gothenburg. It is NOT the capital of Sweden, so in your off-the-cuff remarks to the Swedish press, use the phrase “your magnificent second-largest city.”
June 15: Warsaw, Poland
At 1959 GMT (2:59 in the afternoon in Austin) you’ll touch down in Warsaw, Poland. Poland is a modern industrialized country with a population of 39 million and a gross domestic product of $227 billion. Its chief exports are Polish immigrants (Polacks) and Polish sausage (“sausage”). The Polish currency is the zloty, although not even the Poles take it seriously, and most transactions are handled in Marlboros.
The Poles are a proud people and most refuse to laugh at Polish jokes, no matter how funny they are. However, you can retool most of the Polish jokes in your repertoire as German jokes to good effect. It might be good to mention the name of the most famous Polish-born person in the world, Pope John Paul II, whose real name is Karol Wojtyla. It’s probably best to refer to him simply as “the pope.”
You’ll be visiting Warsaw, the capital of Poland. The city is known for its modern buildings, and it’s interesting to note that few structures predate 1945. Definitely do not bring up World War II during your visit here, as the mere mention is likely to provoke anguished wails from older members of the audience.
June 16: Ljubljana, Slovenia
At 1200 GMT (8 in the morning in Austin) you’ll land in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the final stop on your European trip. Little is known about Slovenia. It’s believed to be below and to the right of Austria, although that may actually be Slovakia. The region has been embroiled in bitter warfare for the past decade, though it’s not clear whether Slovenia has been involved in any of the fighting, or if so, whose side they’re on. Secretary Rumsfeld will brief you en route with details, if available.
During your trip, you’ll travel to the city of Ljubljana. Under no circumstances should you attempt to pronounce the name of this city. Instead, use the phrase “this magnificent enclave of Slavic culture,” and wait for the applause.
In many respects, Mr. President, this will be the most “foreign” and challenging leg of your trip. But when you step back onto Air Force One and head home, you’ll discover what every first-time visitor to Europe learns: It’s great to come back to the best country in the world. USA No. 1!
Tom McNichol is a San Francisco writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, and on public radio's "Marketplace" and "All Things Considered." He is a contributing editor for Wired magazine. More Tom Mcnichol.
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