It was no big thing, really, but it made me feel foolish.
It was my first time in Europe, and I was in a crowded, noisy German bar with friends who were more experienced travelers than I was. I finished my first beer and caught the bartender's eye. I held up a finger in the standard "one more, please" gesture.
The bartender brought me two beers. My friends laughed at my surprise.
"How come I got two beers?" I asked. "I only held up one finger."
"Yeah, but it was the wrong finger. You held up your index finger. In the States that means 'one.' But in Germany, people start counting with their thumbs. A thumb means 'one' and an index finger means 'two.' So you got two beers."
I haven't seen Rick Steves talk about hand-signals for ordering beer yet on any of his public television series, "Rick Steves' Europe" nor on "Travels in Europe with Rick Steves." But it's the kind of in-the-know advice he specializes in.
Rick Steves is all about traveling smart, about getting away from the touristy routes and out to where the real people live, about hostels and working-class restaurants, about trains and buses and trolleys, about side-trips and picnics. Watch Rick Steves and you can travel with more confidence, and often for a lot less than you might think.
Steves still projects a boyish enthusiasm on TV, belying the fact that he's written guidebooks to eight countries and three cities as well as the best-selling "Europe Through the Back Door." He's been roaming Europe for 32 years and runs a company that escorts more than 4,000 Americans around the continent annually.
Today, you can roam the globe vicariously on the Travel Channel 24/7. But what makes Steves' programs stand out is his down-to-earth, practical approach to traveling. Steves doesn't do travelogues, although you'll find plenty of eye-candy scenery in the places he visits. And he doesn't spend a lot of time on a country's major attractions. He says most travelers can manage to see the Eiffel Tower or the Trevi Fountain without a lot of help. And he doesn't recommend that travelers skip the must-see attractions. But he suggests that any trip needs the leavening of the unexpected a chance encounter with a friendly local, an insider's tip on where to eat a delectable and inexpensive lunch, or a chance run-in with an offbeat piece of history you won't find mentioned in the guidebooks. His irreverent sense of humor spices his programs giving viewers the idea that European travel can be great and often carefree fun
Speaking of fun, if you do head for Europe and find yourself in a crowded bar in Germany, go ahead and hold up that index finger. In Deutschland, two beers are always better than one.