There is only one thing more annoying than people who keep tabs on the number of countries they have visited and that is dealing with their outrage when you admit you are Facebook illiterate. “Seriously, you mean you haven’t seen my pics and posts on the Grand Canyon? OMG.” Repressing the urge to remind them that only poor farmers without a cooking gas connection are entitled to put s**t up on walls, you shake your head wordlessly as their eyes glaze over with pity laced with contempt. FOMO, or the fear of missing out, has this country in a death grip and the victims of this malaise are legion. I know I sound like a crabbity f**t, but I just had to get that off my chest. Country counting and wall posting means you aren’t really a traveller; you’re more of an accountant, keeping score.
It was Mark Twain who said, “I have found out there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” Marky my man, you’re lucky you shuffled off this mortal coil before your namesake Zuckerberg inflicted his version of the Ebola virus on the Internet. As for his tribe of FBI’s (Facebook Informants), this is a family newspaper so I have to restrain myself. I’m sure most of you have your favourite travel gripes, dear reader, and I crave your indulgence while I hit the rant button.
Make it a little Spicy. I’ve had the misfortune to witness this form of steroid-fuelled idiocy several times, the most recent instance involving an American who ordered green curry at a small café in Chiang Mai. When asked for his preference, he goes, “Hell’s bells, I’m from Texas, man, I can handle a little spicy”. The hapless Thai waiter hurried off to the kitchen where he probably walked a “little tightrope” with the chef before presenting “gleen cully, lidda bit supicy.” It was pure theatre: cowboy took a big helping to impress his “short time girlfriend” and promptly turned into a beetroot. When he regained consciousness after 3 beers taken intravenously, his bird had flown, rather like the girl in the Beatles’ song, “Norweigan Wood”. But we live and learn: hopefully he developed a heightened understanding of “little” and short time. Of course he spent the next half hour haranguing the staff about habaneros and Tex-Mex while he chugged down more beer to dowse the fire. Thais munch on Bhut Jolokia, which kicks in at 1 million heat units, as a midnight snack; consequently they have no frame of reference for words like little spicy.
The Google Obsessive: This species can be easily identified by the maniacal gleam in their eyes when you mention a dinner destination. If you are so foolish as to ask the staff for directions while making the reservation, you will have to face his wrath for the rest of the holiday because the App-man would rather crawl on broken glass than ask a local for directions. Here’s a tip: Googlemaps works brilliantly in cities but once you get out in the country, especially in rural Italy, you’re better off rubbing a bottle and hoping a genie will appear than relying on a gizmo. We stumbled through endless passages in Matera recently trying to get to a restaurant only to discover ruefully that the town is built on four levels and left can occasionally mean right, or wrong. Or whatever: Google sucks, big time. Getting back was less tricky with the owner showing us “the seemple way, caro, not the Google way,” though we almost used it as a fallback when the temperature dropped to 15 degrees in the pouring rain, where the streets had no name, apologies to U2.
My uncle Robbie wasn’t tech-savvy or obsessed: his map-reading skills were pathetic but he had a touching faith in his sense of direction. It was only after we had paid the toll at the same booth for the third time on a trip to Niagara Falls that he allowed me to ask for directions. The female attendant at the booth probably thought he was hitting on her because she finally said, “Honey, you sure are doing your bit to kick-start the economy or do you just like my smile?” On another trip when we had unintentionally seen far more of the Surrey countryside than the Mayor, he finally agreed to pull into a local pub to ask for help. Ignoring his instructions to stay in the car, I snuck in behind him as he bellied up to the bar and thrust his well-thumbed map under the nose of a patron enjoying his pint. “How do I get to Woking?” he bellowed. “Well this map is slightly old-fashioned, I’m afraid.” Robbie turned on me with fury saying, “See I told you this map was crap.” Whereupon his interlocutor gently added, “I merely meant it works better if you’re not holding it upside down…”...