7 June 2023

My disability abroad

I’m one of those many thousands of Australians currently living in England with the purpose of doing as much travel to other countries as my money will allow.

Tower Bridge in London on a gloomy day

I love the sense of adventure and being on the road, seeing new things and making new friends.

Laurie standing from the viewing platform of the Eiffel Tower with view of Paris behind
[Paris, Jan 2008] On my first big trip abroad. I look a lot younger than I do now!
I have written about my previous trips in another blog and in the future I will post my adventures here on stumped LIFE.

But I’d like to share a story that happened when I first travelled to Europe in 2008. I had never really been overseas and was perhaps a little naive.

I was standing in line at the ticket office at the Louvre in Paris, in 2007. Behind me were a handful of strangers I had befriended on the first day of my bus tour – most of them were of course, Australians.

Called to the ticket office, with my wallet out and ready to pay, the lady at the counter took one look at me and said, in her best English, my ticket was free.

I looked at her with a puzzled look as she pointed to the next person in the line and asked if he was with me.

Still confused, I nodded, before he was waved to the counter and also given a free pass. The four others that were part of our group were, however, made to pay.

Not knowing what was going on, I asked “Why?” The attendant pointed to my hand and said “you’re disabled… he’s your carer”.

I’m sure if she were to explain it in French, she would have been a little more tactful.

At the time, I was shocked and offended, and I think I would have been even more offended had I not been travelling on a budget and saved twenty euros for the price of the ticket.

Laurie points to a 'Neighbours' advertisement on a red double decker bus in London
[London, Jan 2008] I was happy to see Harold Bishop from Australian TV show ‘Neighbours’ on a red double-decker bus.
It happened to me again at the London Eye – but this time, I was given a ticket that had printed “concession” while another friend I had travelling with me had “carer”.

We laughed.

I can’t recall it ever happening in Australia before, and I couldn’t say it has happened since. Although I have had the sympathetic looks from salespeople, before being charged full-price.

But as I talked about the experience to other travellers and in my own self-reflection, I think my offence was not that my disability was identified and I was classed differently to my fellow travellers, but it was contrary to how I am defined back home.

As I have written in previous posts, I had never been treated differently.

Acceptance had always been equated to independence and empowerment – not treated differently or any ‘less’ gives people with disability respect. The cultural difference here was that by discounting the price of the ticket, there was some moral obligation to look after me and my “condition”.

I wouldn’t subscribe to this way of thinking, and I don’t think it’s part of the Australian psyche, but I accept that there was and is no ill-intent with the rationale.

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  1. I had to fraudulently doctor my Eurail pass to get my free travel. An important formative experience that no one should be denied!

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