I finally got to writing my Memoirs. In the process, I remembered my many cultural shocks. If you traveled the world over as I did, you may recognize some of your own experiences.
THE “WEST” AND “SORT OF WEST”
- USA: Americans think only they are sane. The rest of the world thinks Americans are insane and they are sane. And everything in America looks and tastes the same, and their girls are xenophobic.
- Russia: Taking a bath is against the rules unless you do it in vodka.
- Holland: Bikers don’t look right or left and run you over, yelling YOU are stupid. Plus ample dog poop and the only place where I got robbed three times over the years by the same people. Guess once: Starts with an “M”, Holland’s most popular ethnic Moroccan invaders.
- Belgium: Toilet paper cut from old newspapers and no sinks to wash your hands. Language either Flemish or Walloon, either way unintelligible. Breakfast: French fries, mussels, and beer (or “rouge”, red wine). Lots of smokers.
- France: Toilets with black holes, no seats, and pissed-over footsteps and no sinks to wash your hands. Plus subway stink is the world’s worst. And heaps of dog and pigeon poop. Food is way too expensive and waiters are rude. And French love is a myth. Americans in Paris made that up because they don’t know what love is either, only in the movies. But I made some very good friends and had lovely moments.
- Spain: Males can’t leave a girl alone. Females are locked up 24/7. And I can’t sing serenades in Spanish.
- Portugal: As many windmills as in Holland. They look spooky. Don Quixote traveled from Spain to Portugal to fight them.
- Italy: Males can’t leave a girl alone. And females eat too much pasta. And there’s too much pigeon poop, too.
- Germany: One menu only: bier, wurst, und sauerkraut. And too much hoompa hoompa.
- England: no menu at all, only rain, and after joining the EU they still drive on the wrong side of the road. Maybe that will change after Brexit.
- Ireland: All Irish have gone to New York to join the Democratic Party. Only Poles and Romanian pickpockets are left.
- Scotland: Rain, cold weather, smoking chimneys, and nobody speaks English.
- Switzerland: Swiss-French unintelligible; Swiss-German unintelligible, Swiss Italian, well, who knows; I don’t speak Italian. Traffic priority signs for frogs, cows, and turtles. The Swiss put holes in their cheese to attract American off-shore money. Raclette sits in your stomach for two weeks and causes terrible farts that kill your co-worker in seconds.
- Rwanda: Twice destroyed in thirty years with old colonial help.
- Burundi: Twice destroyed in twenty years with old colonial help.
- Central African Republic: snakes in and/or under your bed, wasps in your toilet, and pygmies running between your legs.
- Cameroon: The food looks great but you can’t eat it.
- Congo-Kinshasa: Everybody cheats.
- Congo-Brazaville: Nobody cheats. It’s forbidden by law.
- South Africa: Go visit a shopping mall to get shot at and run for your life.
- Tanzania: Dar es Salaam has too many SUVs and nobody knows how they were paid for.
- Kenya: Wildlife is for tourists and the airport road is to kill the tourists.
- Ethiopia: The table cloth is edible but you wouldn’t think that when you go to bed.
- Mali: That’s where Timbuktu is and when I got there I finally understood why everybody says it’s nowhere.
- Guinea: Why for heaven’s sake did the colonialists put that country on the map?
- Ivory Coast: Must be called Côte d’Ivoire to show it was once French and that’s why it is what it is.
- Ghana: The only place in Africa on the West Coast that seemed to work because it had a direct KLM flight from Amsterdam.
- Nigeria: The one place in Africa that should work but doesn’t. Night flight out to safety.
- Bangladesh: Delicacy: cockroached curry. Eating with your fingers; spit reservoirs in every corner of every corridor; toilets are bastions of urine, providing the main perfume in office buildings; and beware of the Dhaka “run” if you want to survive.
- India: more of the same, but a little bit more sophisticated and the best food in the world. And heavenly Kashmir should be declared neutral territory for everyone to enjoy, not just Islamists, not just Hindus, not just Pakistanis. Just let it be.
- Malaysia: A mushroom garden with millions of multicolored edible mushrooms and a McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur. What a place to live.
- Singapore: The country that everyone wants to ape but only Singaporeans know how to run.
- Taiwan: The only place where China is not China but everyone speaks Chinese and a tree you can slide through to become rich if you don’t fear getting stuck in the middle for the rest of your life.
- Philippines: Manila TV is like American TV – just as awful. In the countryside you find its beauty, but you may get struck by a typhoon.
- Indonesia and Bali: Djakarta is like Lagos, but outside the city, Java is a jewel. And on Bali, they serve the best suckling pig on earth. Go visit Bali’s interior to see the real Indonesia and its terraced rice fields. Heaven on earth. But the hotel bills are hellish.
- Hong Kong: British geniality mixed with Chinese Confucianism. Foremost a good cuisine, especially on the street, but everyone wondered how long the good life of one country two systems would last when the Brits handed it over to Communist China. The day of reckoning has come.
- China: More bikers than in Holland, and I never had real Chinese food before, not even in Amsterdam or NY China Town.
- Macao: Beware! Bought my wife a sapphire ring that turned out a piece of colored glass.
- Japan: Plastic food in the window is for show and not for eating. You must bow when meeting people in the elevator. And even a GPS can’t find where you’re going.
- Hawaii: advertised as little Asia but no, it’s pure America.
- Saudi-Arabia: The place where beautiful women are kept in hiding and your head gets cut off if you dare looking at them when they come strolling out after 11 p.m., or for saying something about their beauty.
- Lebanon: A Falafel tastes as good as a bomb.
- Jordan: An oasis in the desert and the only place in the Middle-East where I could ride a horse, have dinner in the open with a lovely woman, and feel at home, and where I might have stayed if she had said “yes.”
- Guyana: Loud. Loud dogs, loud crickets, loud vehicles, loud music, loud people but great curry and the best rum in the world. Drives on the wrong side of the road because the British stole Guyana from the Dutch in the 100-year European wars. Beautiful and savvy women, always showing a pleasant smile; and everything stays the same.
- Surinam: Neighbor of Guyana and awfully isolated but Surinamers don’t mind. People speak fluent Dutch (the only country outside Holland and Flemish Belgium that does) as Surinam was a Dutch colony until 1975. My greatest shock was that while speaking Dutch they are not Dutch at all, and their beautiful women bite.
- Curacao: The place to live but too expensive to retire.
- Bonaire: For scuba divers and iguana lovers only.
- Jamaica: The place where I spent my Millennial and tore both of my shoulder tendons when climbing back into my capsized sailing boat, leaving me burdened with lifelong Jamaicanitis.
Travel for us means diving into the storage room in the bowels of our residence to find the right suitcases for the umpteenth trip. Our problem is that we (well, you know who “we” is ) never threw out the old suitcases when “we” bought new ones. So we have a bunch.
Among the legions of suitcases, there are a few reds which are easy to single out at the baggage claim when everyone has black. And when everybody got red, we got panter skin types. Staring at us is ‘Big Brother’, for surplus shipments to ‘Third World’ locations in need. There are some more suitcase pictures, but that would be ‘repetitive.’ You get the ‘picture.’
Next, follow pictures of some places we traveled to. I regret we didn’t have cell phone cameras in those days with their enormous storage capacity. We didn’t have the same urge then to take pictures of everything happening. Now we have to collect them from photo albums. My dad went all over the world for his beer business but took mostly 8mm movies that have deteriorated. We took videos we watched on VCRs. VCRs are gone now, too, and we had to have them transferred to CD-Roms.
OK, here we go, starting from when we worked for the World Bank. That’s a bit like ‘Join the Navy and See the World.” Except that we saw ports only occasionally for work (transport was one of my fields). Mostly we saw capitals and the interior, of which our memory kept many wonderful images that are unfortunately locked up in our minds. I wish there was a mechanism that would allow us to transfer them onto photo paper, like a scanner. Who knows what the future holds.
The world we saw is very large and we may have to do it in parts, starting with Africa, then Asia – South East and Far East – the Caribbean and the Middle-East. But first some left-over honeymoon pictures of 1974.
Joy at a ‘slave hut’ on Bonaire (1974). They were built entirely of stone and hardly tall enough for a man to stand upright in (Joy is 5’7, so you can imagine). Wikipedia: “From 1816 until 1868, Bonaire remained a Dutch government plantation. In 1825, there were about 300 government-owned slaves on the island. Gradually many of the slaves were freed and became freemen with an obligation to render some services to the government. The remaining slaves were freed on 30 September 1862 under the Emancipation Regulation. A total of 607 government slaves and 151 private slaves were freed at that time.” Those were bad days and the Dutch feel very shameful about it.
Bonaire: A flock of Flamingos flying off. Of the three Dutch Leeward Antilles (Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire) little Bonaire is environmentally the most fascinating and a heaven for scuba divers.
Bonaire – a coastal rock formation.
A peaceful look at Puerto Rico’s coastline at San Juan.
Joy at a castle in Toledo near Madrid (1974).
And admiring windmills in Portugal.
Visiting flamboyant Georgetown, Guyana, and
Admiring its flamboyant trees from home.
Flying to Guyana Interior.
Getting ready to see the Kaieteur Waterfall
Kaieteur Waterfall, 226 meters deep, 113 m wide, surrounded by wilderness. Most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen.
Back at work at the World Bank, with the car parked in front of the office (impossible now!). Besides, the main office building was entirely replaced years later. Picture taken by Joy.
John’s office at the World Bank, picture taken by -surprise- Joy (years later). The window looks out on the IMF across 19th Street. The files on the radiator were to protect me from the secondary smoke from inhaling/exhaling Frenchmen/women in adjacent offices. Thank God those smoking days are over!
We will be going to Africa next time.