Oh, the trials of holiday travel! Have you spent time in airports and airplanes this holiday season, crossing time lines and oceans? Many expats do. Much as you might detest being squashed in tiny seats for hours on end, or standing in security check lines for eternity, this exercise offers the fabulous opportunity to do some serious people watching and eaves dropping. You see and hear wonderful stuff. Here a few of my collected gems of people’s words and statements.

The Plane Truth

Ever flown over the Sahara Desert? It’s a big place, a real big place, full of sand. I used to fly across it regularly, from Ghana, West Africa to the Netherlands and back. At times I’d take Ghana Airways, which was always a risky choice. Flights were sometimes cancelled without notice. So, naturally, it came to pass that one day it was my turn. I schlepped my luggage and my sorry self back to the house and flew out the next day. But never mind, we all have such stories. Let me just tell you about what happened once we were well on our way the next day:

A few hours into the flight, after night has fallen and we’re flying high above the Sahara, I get out of my seat to stretch my legs and get another drink in the galley. The flight attendant is a young Ghanaian man, happy to help me and ready to chat. Ghanaians in general are a friendly sort. So we chat, and I’m saying it must be rather a problem for passengers with connections to find out the flight has been cancelled when they get to the airport and that cancelling flights without notice is not good for the airline’s reputation.

The friendly Ghanaian flight attendant hands me my water. “Madame,” he says sorrowfully, “yesterday, it was a problem, because the plane from Ethiopia didn’t come to Accra because it had technical problems. So we had no plane yesterday to fly to Amsterdam. We need more money so we can buy more planes.”

Ghana Airways is (at the time of this story) a modest outfit with a small fleet of aircraft. They fly to Addis Ababa, Amsterdam, London, and a few other locations, making one flight a week to each of these places. If all goes well.

I suggest to the friendly Ghanaian flight attendant that perhaps better management might help improve the scheduling problems. Management skills generally do not rank high among Ghanaian national talents. Training flight attendants leaves something to be desired as well (read on).

The flight attendant shakes his head and looks doubtful about my management suggestion. “Madame, we need more money. All our planes are so old, they break down all the time.”

Just what you want to hear, high in the sky above a cold, dark, empty Sahara Desert.

Note: Ghanaian Airlines no longer exists.


Here a story with a different sort of flight attendant:

Vive Air France !

I’m on an Air France flight from Yerevan, Armenia, to Paris, France. We’re getting ready to take off and are instructed to turn off our electronic gadgetry and phones, you know, the regular routine.

Across the aisle from me sits a large Armenian man all in black, looking important. He keeps talking on his cell phone and ignores the order. After all, he is important. An elegant French flight attendant sashays past and tells him in clear English that he must turn off his phone. He ignores her with stunning arrogance and keeps talking after she walks on. I know his type. He is a self-important big shot as there are a number of them strutting around in Armenia and they do not like to take orders from mere flight attendants and other lowly people in the service industry.

The pretty flight attendant comes back and tells him again, in a raised voice, “Sir! Turn off your phone!” Pretending to be deaf and blind, he ignores her completely, because, after all, he is important.

Miss Air France reaches over and simply plucks the phone right out of his hand and hip-swings away with it.

La coolitude! Vive la France!


Wanted: A Hug and a Plane

I’m at the airport in Denver, Colorado, USA. It’s chaos. Flights cancelled and delayed. People milling around everywhere, endless lines at ticket counters and feeding stations. People are hungry, angry, tired and fed up. My flight to Washington is now four hours delayed and I have long given up any pretense of being ladylike. I’ve sagged down on the floor, my back against the wall and try to be Zen about it all. It just is. It just is.

I watch the people going by, listen to screaming children and howling babies and thank the gods my kids are grown.

Unfortunately this guy was unavailable in Denver and was giving out his freebies in California

A granny in big white sports shoes comes slogging past me, her purse slung diagonally across her chest, a cane in one hand, a dripping ice cream cone in the other. Can you see her? She’s alone and looks exhausted, her eyes staring wildly into the far yonder.

“I can’t do this no more,” she says, speaking to no one. “I can’t do this no more.”

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Okay, your turn. What memorable bits and pieces did you overhear in planes or airports? Or what little dramas did you witness?

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Spain: Eating twelve grapes in twelve seconds

Are you finished and done with 2016? Me too. Let me show you how the rest of the world celebrates the beginning of a new year.

In many countries, spectacular public fireworks are set off, but there are many other fun customs and traditions to be found around the world.

In many wine producing countries such as Spain, Portugal, Argentina and others, twelve grapes are eaten, one for each of the last 12 seconds of the year.

This apparently is not easy to do, so you start the year with a mouthful of grapes and you’d better not laugh and choke on them. If you somehow manage to chow down all twelve you’ll have twelve months of good luck in the New Year. The grapes are aptly called las uvas de la suerte (the grapes of good luck). You can buy them already peeled for your eating convenience.

Beach parties are de rigueur in the southern hemisphere in countries like Brazil and Australia. Australia is also famous for the stunning fireworks in Sydney harbor.

In Rio de Janeiro, along with the carnival-rivaling beach parties, there’s also the Festa de Yemanjà. Offerings of flowers, perfume, rice, and so on are made to Iemanjà, the Goddess of Water.

Offering to Goddess Yemanja

Offering to Goddess Yemanja, Goddess of Water

These are either tossed into the waves or put into small boats and set adrift.

Brazil: Offerings floating off into the sea

In the USA, like everywhere else, people go partying. A major tradition is the dropping of the New Year’s Eve Ball on Times Square in New York. This event is attended by many thousands of bunddled-up nutcases freezing in the arctic cold (usually), and millions of saner types who stay warm in homes or clubs and watch it on TV. At the stroke of midnight everyone kisses his or her significant other to the tunes of Auld Lang Syne.

Denmark has an old tradition, so I hear, which involves saving up all your broken glass and dishes over the year and then throwing them at your friends’ doors. The more broken dishes you find outside your own door, the more friends you have. At midnight party goers climb on top of their chairs and then jump off to symbolize jumping into the New Year. Well, that’s what I read. Cyberspace is mysteriously devoid of photos to prove it.

In Ecuador, effigies are burned at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

New Year in Ecudador

These dolls are made of old clothes stuffed with newspaper and have a mask for a face. If you have worries, disappointments, regrets or problems you’d like to leave behind, you can write them down on paper and stuff them inside. Handwritten notes are also pinned on the outside of the dummy stating what improvements are wished for in the new year. At midnight the effigies are burned and people dance in the street, as you can see in the photo below.

I rather like this ritual. Very symbolic. I spent a few weeks in Ecuador some years ago and really enjoyed the people and the country.

In my native Holland we have parties at home or in pubs and everyone has his own bunch of fireworks to set off in the street at midnight. This after we’ve carbs-loaded with yummy greasy, sugary, oliebollen.


Oliebollen, made by Miss Footloose

Wherever you are, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

* * *

What are your New Year’s Eve traditions? Anything fun or exotic? Which foreign ones have you enjoyed in your travels?

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