Have you ever seen, right in front of your car, a person crossing a road crawling on all fours? As an expat or a foreigner traveling in alien lands you get lots of opportunities to get into trouble. Some trouble is more fun than others, but it’s wise to keep an eye out for signs and warnings and to pay attention to whatever the locals tell you.

I’ve gathered some photos here that should give you some idea of what to look out for in some of the countries I am familiar with. If this is helpful to even one person, my efforts will have been worth it.

While on the island of Phuket in Thailand, where trouble found us in the form of an ear ache afflicting our number two daughter (see: Hunting Down the Doctor) we were careful about the medicine we were given by a sleepy doctor wearing shorts and a Micky Mouse T-shirt. There was more trouble to be found as you can see on the sign above, but fortunately we managed to avoid running over an inebriated person crawling across the road. I should clarify that Phuket Island is a tourist place, and the people ending up on all fours are usually not the locals.

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In Armenia, a small country hiding in the Caucasus Mountains, be prepared to get lost. This is easy to do and there are various ways: First there is the unique alphabet (այբուբեն) which renders you an instant illiterate. Then there is the spoken language itself which is unique as well and completely unintelligible. This then makes you as helpless as a baby. Then to really let you get lost in the wilds of the Caucasus Mountains, the locals offer you road signs like this one:

 

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Costa Rica is a beautiful country with lovely, warm people. Only sometimes apparently they get too warm . . .

FLICKR_CR_NoSmooching


In restaurants, parks and other public places you’ll find signs like this: Amorous scenes forbidden. In other words, no smooching here!

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In Ghana, West Africa, where we lived for a number of years, we had a bar in our neighborhood, the No. 1 choice for many. It was a lively place.


Lots of good fun, loud music, lots of beer. Still, looking at the sign, you should ask yourself, do I really want to go to this place?

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While living in Indonesia, I visited Bali, island of smiles, festivals and temples. I encountered signs on the temples similar to the one below.

FLICKR_Bali_TempleSign_dominiqueBergeron_600x407

So if you are a woman, you may wish to check your calendar before planning a visit to a temple. Then again, you may not.

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If you’ve brought along your beloved dog to my native Holland, you’ll want to pay attention to the sign on the photo below.

My people are known to be a practical, down-to-earth lot, so this sign is graphic and to the point and needs no words in any language.

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In Albania, where I spent a short time living in an upscale apartment in the snazzy downtown area of Tirana, a sign on the inside of our front door warned us we’d better be quiet as a mouse or else! It made me wonder what warning was posted on the doors of less fancy apartments.

Spending time in an Albanian jail was not be part of your travel plans, so we whispered a lot.

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And last but not least, expats beware of what the natives may do to your children! You may not recognize your own flesh and blood when they get done with them.


Here a photo of what happened to my number one daughter in Indonesia when invited to partake in a local fashion show. She’s in the middle with two of her friends, a Dutch girl (right on photo) and a German girl (left). All three Caucasian blondes.

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Tell me what fun, interesting or scary signs or warnings you have come across in your travels. I’m waiting!

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The Far East is full of mysteries. I’m sure you’ve heard. For expats and travelers this can be fun, fascinating, frustrating, or infuriating as I discovered myself. For two years I sojourned on the tropical island of Java, Indonesia, with the man of my dreams and our two blond daughters.

Borobudur Temple, Java. Each “bell” contains a Buddha statue. See volcanoes in the distance.

I did not attempt to unveil the mysteries of religion, mysticism, spiritualism and other high-minded affairs, since my mind only lives on the lower plains of existence, just so you know. Even so, in daily life, I found some mysteries to deal with. Such as that people on Java like to pinch the cheeks of cute little kids hard, as our girls painfully discovered. And when you’re in a car accident, logic as you know it does not apply. Let me tell you a scary tale:

Culture Crash

So one day I am in traffic, in my little car. I’m on my way home from shopping at Pasar Johar, the open market in Semarang, the town where we live. I buy my vegetables and fruit there, and fish and meat as well (and no, we’ve never been sick).

I have to make one more stop at a small store along the street, so I slow down and signal my turn. Behind me a cool kid on a motorcycle decides to pass me at the same time. On the wrong side, the curbside, illegally. Either he does not see my turn signal or he just ignores it because he is sixteen and therefore immortal.

As you will understand, disaster strikes as I turn my steering wheel. With a horrifying bang he crashes right into the side of my car, behind where I sit in the driver’s seat. Then he bounces over the top, bike and all, and ends up lying in the street on the other side. My heart rate is off the charts.

People stop. Traffic stops. The daredevil cyclist clambers to his feet, apparently unscathed except for an injured elbow, praise be to Allah. His motorcycle is a mangled mess.

Long story short: The hara-kiri biker and I end up at the police station, where a report is drawn up. Witnesses to the scene have confirmed that the motorcyclist was at fault, passing me on the wrong side, and that my signal was turned on. Why did he pass me when I had my turn signal on? He shrugs and says he didn’t believe I was going to turn.

Oh, really?

The officer in charge of our case now suggests to me that I should pay the young man some money so he can go fix his bike, if this is even possible. I am not sure I hear him right.

“It was not my fault!” I say. “Why should I pay?”

The officer assures me the accident was not my fault, and that it says so in the report, so why don’t I give the boy some money so the case can be closed and I can go home?

The full shock has finally hit me and I am trembling. The kid could have been dead, and guilty or not, I would have carried the image of his bloody corpse with me for the rest of my life. I am enraged he did such a stupid thing and now I have to give him money? No way!

The officer looks confused. The kid looks confused. Why don’t I fork over some rupiahs and be done with it?

I tell them I will not pay money. Not even a token little bit. Absolutely definitely not. I did not cause the accident and I will not pay!

“But the young man is poor,” the officer says. “He needs money to help with fixing his bike.”

My husband and his colleague Jim arrive at the police station to give me aid and succor. I pour out my story, while the hara-kiri kid watches us as he nurses his painful elbow. More talk with the various officers who have gathered to watch the drama. I stand aside. I’ve had enough. I’m hot and sweaty. I’m mad and tired. I want to go home, have a shower and a stiff drink or two.

A while later my husband takes my arm and leads me out of the station.

“They’re letting us go? What did you do?”

“I gave the kid some money,” my man says, cool as a cucumber.

I’m sizzling like a chili in hot oil. “Why?” I wail. “It wasn’t my fault! Why should we pay him even a single rupiah!”

“It’s not a matter of who is at fault,” Jim-the-colleague tells me. “It’s a matter of who has money. That’s how it’s done here. You have the money, so you pay. That’s fair.” He grins his American smile at me.

You’ve got to be kidding.

“And,” my husband adds, “the other logic goes that since you’re a foreigner, the accident wouldn’t have happened in the first place if you hadn’t been here.”

Of course. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

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All over the world people have different ways of thinking, of making sense of things. I’d love to hear what you’ve come across that surprised, angered or amused you. I’m waiting!

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