Sunday, June 07, 2009

Don't go there...

Eleven years ago I was sitting in an aeroplane, 500 miles of the coast of Brazil, when there was a sudden jolt. Drinks were spilt and people laughed nervously. Just as the atmosphere was returning to normal, there was another jolt and the plane started to shake. The fasten seatbelts sign came on and the Argentinian pilot cheerfully announced that we had merely 'heet a leedle beet of tarrbulence'.

I wasn't convinced. I had experienced turbulence before and this was somethinq quite different, but the cabin crew seemed to be taking it all in their stride so I returned to my book. However the turbulence got worse and I noticed that a deathly quiet had replaced the animated chatter of the plane's mostly South American passangers. Was this it? Were we going to plunge to a watery grave in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? After the terrible events of last week, perhaps it wasn't such a ridiculous question.

I have been scared of flying ever since and although I haven't completely succumbed to my phobia, I don't go out of my way to travel by plane. However, rationally I know full well that it isn't travelling to another country that's dangerous. The trouble really starts when you've arrived.

Some people have the irritating ability to assimilate themselves effortlessly into new countries. By the end of the first day, they have a local bar. By the second, they've been invited for a meal, successfully bartered their way in the local market and climbed a nearby mountain. Their laidback bonhomie is the WD40 of social intercourse (and probably sexual, too).

When I travel my trips are marked by a succession of minor mishaps and near-death encounters which, in most cases, don't even amount to a half-decent anecdote.

I have been stalked by a mountain lion, had my car reduced to a small cube by a huge truck on an ill-fated trip to Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock filmed The Birds), dumped on a larva field in the middle of nowhere by a malevolent taxi driver and almost crushed under the wheels of a bus in Chile.

All of these things happened because I was clueless about my surroundings. I arrived with my own preconceptions about how things worked and naively assumed that the British way of doing things was based on some universal law of common sense, rather than being a variation on a theme. Most of the time, this ignorance resulted in minor frustrations, but occasionally I made near-fatal errors.

So flying isn't the problem. It's being abroad. I suppose I should take the hint and stay at home.


The Silver Eel said...

Nonsense! It's exactly that kind of English naivety wot won the empire - the belief that the entire world wanted to be British and just had to be woken up to the fact. Next time, take along a handful of Scots to shoot the more uppity natives and then build a bridge. You'll have a whale of a time and make your pile into the bargain.

Art said...

Being stalked by a mountain lion seems like a fairly good anecdote to me.

Motherhood The Final Frontier said...

Have you tried just SHOUTING LOUDER at people in a red-faced colonial manner? Surely that works?
Despite being a very well-traveled person I am actually increasingly nervous of flying and now you've pretty much terrified me completely.
That's it. I'm NEVER going to Brasil.

Steerforth said...

The mountain lion episode could have been exciting, but in reality I had no idea what it was, so the situation was completely lacking in drama.

Art - As the mountain lion followed me from a distance, I merely thought 'That animal seems friendly, but a little shy' and felt grateful that it wasn't a bear. It wasn't until I showed my holiday video to a friend that I realised what I'd seen.

Silver Eel - I spent this afternoon looking through several books that were written on that premise. How absurd they seem now, although I do like the pith helmets and fly swatters.

Motherhood - I'm afraid I'm one of those wet liberal types who learns a bit of the local language. I would have been absolutely useless in a colonial role, 'going native' within days.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I've never seen the point of abroad myself.