Death By Cranberry

7 04 2008

 

Aland, Finland

Finland: There be berries in them there woods

 

After scouring Nairobi’s shops and markets for razors, my friend finally thought she had met with success. The shopkeeper had nodded enthusiastically and disappeared towards a back shelf. Moments later, she returned with something in her hand and placed it in a paper bag.

 

“200 shillings, please.” the woman asked.

 

Back at the hotel, my friend went into the bathroom and prepared to remove several weeks’ growth from her legs after a long safari. I heard the water run and the rustle of the bag…then silence. Moments later, she emerged holding the small packet in her hands.

 

“I don’t think this is going to work” she said, holding up a box of raisins.

 

Wherever I go, I try to learn at least a few words of the local language, even if only ‘Hello,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you’ and ‘move your hand.’  It not only helps to communicate, but it’s also common courtesy…even when I completely mangle the basics. Often, however, the problem has more to do with accents than language which probably explains why I recently ended up with a mammoth chipotle in Ohio instead of the cheeseburger I had actually ordered!

 

No matter how frustrating communications can be, they are most definitely a part of travel. Always remember that you are the visitor and that patience and a sense of humour are vital when you’re having trouble understanding or being understood. Failing that, alcohol works…just ask the friend of mine who once simply asked for an apple juice with her breakfast on an early morning flight. The flight attendant gave her a withering look of disdain and stormed away muttering beneath her breath only to return a few moments later with a glass of appropriately-coloured liquid. She quickly knocked it back only to realise too late that it was not apple juice at all, but whiskey, and spent the rest of the day in a drunken fog.

 

Sometimes, misunderstandings can lead not to hairy legs or intoxication, but genuine fear. In northern Finland, I was hiking in thick forest when our local guide told us that there were many, many bears there. We asked if people hunted them and he said they did, in season, and came home with enough to last them for the whole year. We continued onwards, cautiously, looking all about us with great trepidation for the rest of our trek. Although our guide kept pointing out things of interest as we went, we were too busy watching for great big furry beasts to pay any attention. Finally, after an hour, and having reached the Baltic coast, someone in a hushed voice asked if they were black bears.

 

“Oh yes”, he replied. “But also blue bears and rasp bears.”

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008

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