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By Pamela Miller
In the days before cell phones, people actually had to wait in line to use public telephones. You'd need an anti-bacterial towelette to clean the receiver, but they weren't yet marketed to germophobes from foreign lands. Then there was the appearance of courtesy. When visiting another country, it was best not to behave in such a way as to blemish the reputation of an entire nation.
There was one particular day that the phone line was long, yet the gentleman inside of the London phone box continued to make calls. These were long calls, including the terms "jolly good" and "take your time." While Henry Higgins was tying up the line, there was little rancor in the queue. After all, you can't tackle the neighbor on the other side of the garden. (Where is a British football hooligan when you need one?) But for the traveler, there is no need to be kind. After banging and kicking the door to no avail, the traveler physically ejected him during his fifth call, all the while screaming at his rudeness.
Unfortunately, the comments voiced by the crowd included something about that awful little American.
When you leave your hometown, you can reinvent yourself at will. All those years you were good might have had something to do with the social contract (or the news of your behavior getting back to your mother). But free from such restraints, you are able to manhandle the telephone hog. You can be whoever you want to be.
Yes, the desire for change might lead someone to coat themselves with white pancake makeup, sport heavy black eyeliner and fangs. That's valid for a weekend. For true transformation, you have to truly go where no Goth wannabe has gone before, or at least lived to tell the tale.
Pick a city, town, or hamlet. Do a little research; pull up a few web pages. Are the only people in the photos tourists and people making money off the tourists? Are you staring at an empty landscape with just a hint of civilization in the form of a crushed soda can? Are people plowing or making fudge? (Fudge shops are never random; they exist to taunt you and empty your wallet. Really, does anyone need three pounds of maple walnut fudge?)
Your goal is to develop a travel persona specific to your travel destination. It's best to be creative, but be careful. Your fun will be in getting away with it. If you don't speak Hebrew, it would be challenging to pull off Israeli commando. Obvious things like calling yourself Miss Scarlet in the Library with the Wrench are dead giveaways. (In fact, it's best to avoid anything that would put your sanity into question if you're not familiar with area laws related to commitment.)
The travel personas to avoid are Lovable Lush and Indiscriminate Slut. They've been done to death, and no one will buy them as an act. Not to cast aspersions on the lushes and sluts of the world, but it really doesn't take much to amuse you. However, travel to Ibiza and pretend to be a world renowned anthropologist, and at least one person will be fooled by your treatise on cultures worshipping blintzes.
There are some great responses to those attempting to grill you on your persona. If someone doubts your credentials as an "esteemed academic," look them in the eye and say, "I was raised to believe intellectual aggressiveness is obnoxious." If someone asks where they can read your National Book Award winning novel, smile and tell them it would probably have to be ordered as the local bookstore and library are not well stocked on modern classics. (For fun, call yourself by the name of a recent National Book Award winner. Would you recognize Annette Gordon-Reed or Junot Diaz buying a breakfast burrito?)
Sometimes your real persona will seep through your guise. Say you want to be a freewheeling hard-core adrenaline junkie, but all that is coming through is fussy vegetarian with expensive tastes. This is the time to test your mettle. Force yourself to enter a restaurant and not balk at the sticky menu with hints of barbecue sauce and grease. Someone offers you moonshine from a community jug, dead flies floating delicately near the top; force yourself not to bring up Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome or elevated lead levels. You're not going to drink it. You're just going to excuse yourself for the long walk back to your Victorian Inn, replete with dust ruffles, chocolate biscuits, and doilies. Tomorrow you'll attempt off-roading or some NASCAR activity. For tonight, you'll stick with the reading in a rocking chair, sipping a cup of chamomile tea.
Copyright © 2009 by Pamela Miller
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Copyright © 2008 by Pamela Miller