It began with the flight from GR to Chicago, which was delayed because of de-icing issues. When I came running into gate K12, I found an elderly woman in a sari with a bindi on her forehead who said she was from Delhi, but when I asked about the plane, she lifted her hands in dismay. “It is gone,” said a voice that belonged to one half of a very mournful looking Indian couple who had also missed the Delhi flight because of weather. They landed the last two seats on a flight that stopped in Paris, and I re-booked for the same Delhi flight I’d missed–and stayed in Chicago.
On that 15-hour flight, I was seated next to an expat English businessman (who lives in Dallas) and flies to India four times a week for his work, and he hates it. Hates the heat, hates the food, hates it. He flies everywhere for work. “It gets into your blood,” he said. Though he likes America’s service economy, he’s never given up his British passport.
“Best citizenship in the world,” he said. “Why would I give that up? Tiny little island, and we used to own half the world.”
“You didn’t own it all that long …,” I reminded him.
“You’ve never owned half the world,” he said. (I’m sure by you he meant “America,’ because the alternative is sort of nonsensical.) “You’ve never beaten us in a war …”
“We didn’t do too badly in the American Revolution, though we did need the French,” I said.
“Tell me one thing the English aren’t great at,” he challenged me, and I said, “Cooking, from what I hear.”
He was actually a fairly affable man (with a master’s in Latin and Greek from the University of Edinburgh) and gave good travel advice. “Never work on the plane,” he told me, when a woman leaned her seat back and folded up the laptop on which I was trying to write a Spark article.”You never know who you may meet.”
Here’s a travel tip: In the Delhi airport, it’s hard to get your boarding pass because they won’t let you go anywhere in the airport without your boarding pass. from my gate in Delhi, I saw my former seatmate filing glumly onto the plane to Bangalore. Then somehow, the flight from Delhi to Hyderabad mysteriously changed numbers sometime before boarding, a phenomenon that gave the driver Leonard sent for me fits.
I was very glad to see him, the driver. Though traveling can seem exotic, most of us, I think, only take a stab at other cultures. It’s only the very culturally sensitive among us who make any attempt at fitting in. And when we try a new food, or try on a sari, there’s a part of us that is trying to relate that experience to our own backlog of cultural experience;
“Oh, you eat rice? We eat more potatoes back home.” Though there are true adventurers among us most travelers stay pretty anchored in the known. And it’s nice to know that, at the end of our journeys, someone will be happy to see you.