Category Archives: USA

The Cold Shower

The other week I was at a hotel somewhere in the US. I had clearly chosen a poor time for my morning shower as I heard water flowing in the pipes in the walls of my room. This poor choice was accentuated when I turned on the water in the shower and only a strong, gushing, tepid stream came out. You know, the type that is just marginally colder than body temperature, the type that you wish for just a single degree warmer to make it bearable. I tried forcing the handle, turning it the other way, using harsh language on it, everything, the temperature did not change.

Side note: I cannot understand why the US has the taps (faucets) that do not allow the volume of water to be controlled. It is off, or on, and only the temperature can be adjusted. I can only think that it is a litigation thing – you must turn the control from cold to hot so that it is virtually impossible to scold oneself by having only the hot water on. Whatever the case, it is infantile, in my opinion. Like the warnings about the contents of coffee being hot. That’s like saying that when showering one could get wet.

Anyway, I waited for a long, long time, hoping stupidly that the temperature might increase. The gushing of water in the pipes (which I was acutely aware of) had already alerted me to the fact that this was not a problem with pipes between the furnace and jet of water emitting from wall in my bathroom needing to be heated up, this was a problem of there being no hot water in the hotel at all to heat up any pipes. It was also pointless phoning the front desk as I was sure they were not going to run outside and stoke fires on the incoming lines to sort the problem out – this was a problem that required more time to solve than I had available.

So, gritting my teeth, I stuck my arm in. Imagine someone trying to catch a venomous snake just below the head when it isn’t looking and half way in realising that the snake is turning his head. That quick – in, out. Lather up. To rinse off, more like the action of the drive rods on a steam engine, in-out-in-out in a blur.

This continued until I was approaching hypothermia. But my body was clean. (Ever notice how cold soap smells on the body?)

As I tried to turn the tap off, I got blasted by a jet of super-heated steam. It seems that there was some super-complicated sequence to get the hot water to come out, that I had not been educated in. Next time I will know better and do as most Americans would – phone the front desk and threaten to sue.

Airports

Ok, so I’m now officially calling on the Illuminati to do something about the security at airports.

No, I’m not asking that security be stopped. I know it is a multi-billion dollar industry that will never be renounced no matter how overbearing or irrational it is in context of the tens of thousands of daily flights around the world. No matter how much additional time it adds to the already valueless activity of flying, it will forever remain with us. Thanks to those buffoons with box cutters and the other scorched scrotum chap, we’re forever more going to be treated like borderline suicide terrorists when trying to board an airplane.

No, I would like the Illuminati to please arrange a standard for the security checks at airports. For example:

  1. Is it necessary for one to remove one’s laptop from the bag – yes or no? There is now a laptop bag that folds open so one does not have to remove the laptop, but some security checks allow it and others not. Can we please have some consistency here?
  2. Is it necessary to remove one’s shoes? I have once been reprimanded in Germany for removing my shoes at a check. When I explained that they were steel toe-caps, I was told that I needed to put them back on and go through the metal detector and let it decide. WTF???? So I went through – of course the machine went into a panic about the amount of steel it had just detected, screaming so shrilly that everyone in the airport, and outside, simultaneously turned to glare at the source of the obviously detected threat. I was then told to go to the “unsecure” (not my words) side of the check and remove my shoes so they could be individually scanned. What the double fuck? When I came back through the metal detector, the same imbecile smiled at me with a sort of “thank you for your co-operation in making airline travel safer” way. I hope my expression back to him was somewhat less polite.
  3. Can I carry a lighter? If not, matches? I would like to understand the reason for the lighter ban. Really, is there a potential for me to cause some flight diverting emergency with something that cannot really melt solder, never mind burn through aluminium? Or is it some form of subtle anti-smoking thing? Or is it just the security people’s idiocy? In China I have been through some airports where no lighters are allowed, but inside the airport there are lighters chained to the wall in the smoking rooms, so I don’t think it’s the smoking thing. Instead of focusing on my lighter, perhaps you should force all 787 pilots to bring their batteries in for a check: that would be a far better way of preventing in-flight fires and emergencies.
  4. Why can I sometimes not carry my passport with me? While travelling there is only one thing that I never leave anywhere, except my top pocket or my hand – my passport. No matter what happens anywhere one might be, without one’s passport one is totally fucked. I don’t even willingly surrender it to the airline check-in clerk. So what is it about my passport that could be so dangerous that it must go through the super-Roentgen machines with my laptop?
  5. Do I, or do I not, need the sticker or tag marking the bag as hand baggage, and in any case, why do I need it? I am carrying the thing and it has made it though the security with me. If it were possible for me to get another bag from someone inside the “secure” section that had somehow smuggled it there, do you not then think that they’ve probably worked out how to get hold of the tag or sticker? WTF (again)? I have traveled through some airports in India where the order in which one receives the stickers for the 4 (four, quatro, vier) security checks is important. It’s like airport snakes and ladders – get it wrong and you go back to the start.
  6. In international airports, could we please get the most experienced officers to do the checking. I once landed in the US after a flight from South Africa via Europe and, as it is with all smokers, almost pushed the little old lady in front of me to the ground trying to get outside to smoke after the 10 or so hours without one. On coming back in for the security check for the domestic leg of the flight, the woman checking my boarding pass and identification flipped through my passport and then asked if I had “some form of US identification”. I’m not normally at a loss for words but this one threw me. Like total brain freeze. What does one say? I mean, I am showing you my passport precisely because I am in your country as a guest, as someone without any other form of identification. Fuck man, a passport is THE form of identification, above all others. I guppied there for a couple of moments not speaking. The dimwit took this as a sign of imminent danger and pressed the big red button in front of her, that started the rotation of the big red light above her desk and simultaneously the “burr-burr-burr” of the “danger imminent”  buzzer. When the supervisor arrived, she told him “this guy does not have US ID” – in a tone like I’d just been caught with 5 kilos of cocaine in my rectum. The supervisor gave her a look that I think was very similar to what mine must have been. To his credit, he apologised profusely to me and allowed me through, shook his head at Mrs Dunce and walked off.

There are more issues, but if we travelers could just get some standardisation of the above points, I for one, would be a lot less stressed when I fly. Surely by now all of the potential threats to airline safety have been identified and we could just all agree on the steps necessary to mitigate them. Even if the result is a nudity enforcement.

Thanks in advance.

To the American Businessman

To most American businessmen:

Thanks for destroying the assumption that all American visitors are arrogant, overbearing, loud mouths who travel the globe irritating the locals.

Most American business people, in my experience, are deferential in another country and realise they are the guests.

Thanks for this.

Oh yes, and to the traditional American tourist – shut up. Forcing your hosts to listen to your screaming between your group is not the way to garner any admiration or respect. Speak at the same level as your hosts (you’ll still be noticed, don’t worry).

PS: South Africans are to Africa what American’s are to the world. South Africans are arrogant, overbearing, loud and demanding when tourist-ing in Africa. Must be the “biggest economy in Africa” thinking that makes us think we are simply superior to those idiots in other African countries. Perhaps the “biggest economy on Earth” has a similar effect on American tourists.

Officers of the Law

I grew up in South Africa during the pre-”end of Apartheid”. That’s not the current ANC version, it’s the previous one. Police officers were downright scary and were respected, even feared.

I now live in the US, where police officers are downright scary and are respected, even feared.

This is very different from the current South African ANC Apartheid police officers who, when I see them (which is very infrequently), are an object of mirth. To explain to people not familiar with the breed: normally an individual with a godzillian butt (100m dash in infinity time because no one can run 100m with a butt like that), wrapped in some form of cotton cling-wrap, with a bright reflective vest, sunglasses that have a gold frame that is so enormous it obscures the entire mid half of the face (like welding goggles, only bigger), and eyes constantly on the prowl for someone to elicit a bribe from, or for a fellow police officer of the opposite sex with whom to have sex. Honestly a pathetic bunch of losers.

Anyway, the point is that I’ve experienced both sides of the police officer respect thing – none and full.

So, when I travel around, I am always befuddled when I see a police officer. Do I bow my head and sneak-a-peak, to make sure they’re not eyeing me? Do I look bold and confident, stare them in the eye with a “I’ve got nothing to hide. Buddy” look? Or do I just turn and walk the other way? Perhaps even the South African “you fucking immoral, incompetent, loser” look?

I think the world has become so paranoid that one is paranoid about not becoming an object of attention. People who get noticed end up on military aircraft on the way to a quiz-show where the prize is retention of testicles.

In China it is easy. One basically falls to the ground and grovels. That’s easy.

In Germany, I just glance. I’m sure somewhere there is a specification for the duration a South African, with American residency, is allowed to stare at a police officer. I have better things to read, so I just give a cursory glance.

In the US, one uses the “I’ve got nothing to hide” but without the “Buddy” look. One then looks away and continues on one’s path. But don’t stare at tall buildings while the officer can still see you.

So in Brazil this morning, I’m standing outside having a smoke and two police officers come around the corner on their motorbikes. These are the first two specimens I’ve seen. I’m curious. I think the safe way to stare is to first look at the motorbike (what brand, engine size, colour, etc) and then move up to look at the officer. This should be respectful enough to be classed as a thumbs-up type of stare. Well, when I finally got to the officer’s head, he was glowering at me as if he was Arnold Schwarzenegger and I was some male hairdresser with a high pitched voice asking him for a date. He was so focused on giving me the “I see you. Arsehole” look that his head had rotated through more than ninety degrees as he drove past and his colleague on the other bike had to tap his shoulder for him to see that he had to brake before becoming lodged in the back of a car that had stopped in front of him.

I guess in Brazil I’ll try the supplication strategy next.

Double Translators = Zero Understanding

One of the great things about American Hotels is that everything one needs for business travel is always available. There is, for example, always ice available, day or night.

In the rest of the world, this is not so.

This is not good for me. I like to have cold water available during the night. Normally the mini-bar provides for my nightly needs, but on a couple of occasions, the single bottle provided has not been enough. I therefore, always, make sure of the availability of ice before going to my room for the night.

This almost led to an incident the other night.

I believe it is a common courtesy (and not to mention a necessity) to learn a couple of words of the language of the country one finds oneself in. The most important word in any traveller’s infantile vocabulary should be “beer”. One should be able to pronounce the word without accent and spontaneously, which usually requires a lot of practice. The best way, I’ve found, is to find some waiter and use the word frequently. One knows one is successful when the waiter doesn’t give the wide-eyed stare, restating the word with different accents, and just rushes off to the bar. In Brazil this is “cerveja”.

The second most important words are numbers – like 1, 2, 3 etc. In Brazil, one of the first words I learnt was 20 (vinte: pronounced like Vinci – like Leonardo da). This is pretty handy because phrases like “vinte cerveja” save so much ordering trouble.

But there can be problems.

Another thing one should be extremely careful of is hand signals. We (should) all know that nodding is not universally accepted to mean “yes”; sometimes it means “no”. I scuba dive. It is a common courtesy, if not downright safety critical, to frequently ask one’s “buddy” if they’re “ok” – the hand gesture for this is thumb and forefinger closed in a circle and the other three fingers splayed like feathers on a wing – mimicking the letter O. I use this symbol frequently. I also use it to indicate “zero”. In Brazil this hand gesture means, to be precise, “fuck you”. Or, depending on the context, “I want to fuck you”.

On my way out of the hotel the other evening I asked the waiter if he could please arrange some ice for my room. The waiter asked me for my room number, and not having mastered the number 7 yet, I thought that I would just use finger gestures for my room number, 207. I should have realised there was trouble brewing when he started using words that were beyond my Brazilian vocabulary and the raised eyebrows that had dropped and become like a funnel between his now almost closed, scowling, eyes. At this point my host appeared and calmed the waiter down. He kindly listened to the waiter and then correctly explained my order.

When I got outside, I asked what the reason was for the aggression. Well, the waiter had “heard” me say “eyes”, which he thought to mean that whatever he’d seen me drink, I wanted more in my room. When he asked my room number, he “saw” me say “2?, no fuck you, 7″. At this point my host arrived and listened to the waiter. He then kindly explained that I did not know the “fuck you” meaning and that I really only wanted 7 beers in my room when I got back from dinner.

So that evening when I got back from dinner: I had seven beers in the mini-bar. And no ice.