Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Traveling G-Free

This post is a bit of a misnomer, since I don't actually have anything smart to say about traveling gluten free. The topic, however, has been on my mind recently. I haven't ever really traveled much outside of academic conferences. Unfortunately for me, I have never had the opportunity to travel the world on someone else's dollar while I shamelessly promote myself. Okay, I am not good at shameless self-promotion. Mostly I stand around quietly and awkwardly because I don't tend to have smart or entertaining things to say. 

Well, now I have plans to bring the quiet and awkward across a border. This means I have to figure out how the hell I am going to navigate in a foreign land. A book I picked up early in my glutard experience has handy translations for gluten and gluten containing grains in a few different languages, but if foreigners are anything like Americans, those words alone won't mean much to them. Even in sentences and questions, those words sometimes don't mean much to folks. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to explain and re-explain what I meant to restaurant staff because they just didn't get it. Lucky for me, my international trip comes with training wheels, since I am just going to Montreal. This feels like a safe way to explore my ability to communicate, since even the Frenchiest of French Canadians probably know enough English for me to get by. 

I keep reminding myself of my tried-and-true tips for eating outside of my home, since they seem likely to apply elsewhere, too. 
(1) Don't be afraid to ask questions.
(2) Restaurant managers are your new best friends. These colonels of the restaurant ranks oversee everyone else and can pass along info and crack skulls if needed.
(3) Don't be afraid to walk away. If you get a bad vibe from a place or the staff doesn't seem to get it, leave. It is better to be safe than sick. 
(4) Bring snacks. Because you never know when you have to walk away or when people will be unable to accommodate you. Even when I travel to major metropolitan areas, I make sure to bring enough protein bars and nosh to potentially sustain me for 1-2 days. A bad experience outside Washington, D.C. left me in the middle of a developing area without any safe food except overpriced, bunless hotel hamburgers, bananas, and gin. Not a good combination for a budding professional at an academic conference.  

How about the rest of you, oh fine people on the 'net -- any tips to share for navigating a gluten (or other food) allergy in another language and culture? Feedback is appreciated. 

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