Telling tall tales
IF I could have a ringgit for each time I lied when travelling, I would have a nice pile of notes by now. I have either been happily married, engaged and impatient to get married, waiting for a boyfriend who was terribly late, a schoolteacher, librarian or bookstore owner.
After all, nobody is going to know the truth.
And if you travel alone, the strangers you meet can’t ask any of your friends to verify your background.
I would have loved to claim to be a scientist, an athlete or karate exponent, but my lack of agility and knowledge in those areas, apart from Star Trek and Star Wars, would have been very obvious after a five-minute conversation.
Don’t tell me you’ve never lied to a complete stranger on your travels. When I was once chatted up on a plane by a man sitting next to me, I told him I was happily engaged.
I spotted him in the departure lounge, staring at me non-stop and making me uncomfortable.
When he appeared on the plane and took the seat next to mine, I decided that I would create a fiance for myself if necessary.
“Are you marriage (sic)?” he burst out suddenly, attacking me with the question without warning, soon after the plane lifted off the tarmac.
He had spent the past 10 minutes staring at me, his head turned in my direction the entire time during taxiing and take-off.
“No, but I will be soon. I am engaged,” I replied curtly and turned away, purposely being rude in the hope that it would put him off. It did.
That was the start of the many lies that I have told.
When I was a lawyer, I used to hate it whenever someone I had just met complained about how expensive lawyers’ fees were.
After trying to justify my fees for the third time, I told everyone I met I owned a bookstore.
I have never been in the habit of getting into arguments on my travels and wasn’t about to start.
When I was a journalist, strangers would remark on the journalistic principles in the profession today.
I eventually got tired of discussing such issues and began introducing myself as a librarian. The comments stopped — nothing contentious or interesting about telling children to be quiet and storing books on shelves, apparently.
Now that I travel and write full-time, I find myself thinking about how to word what I do for a living.
“Writer” is not entirely accurate and has the tendency to sound pretentious so I always say, “I visit places and write about them,” in the hope that I have made myself sound sufficiently vague.
One night during dinner in Ulan-Ude, Russia, after I had told some people at my guesthouse what I did, one of them asked: “So are you going to write about us and everything we say, then?”
“Definitely,” I replied.
“Just remember to give us cool jobs. Make me a pilot,” volunteered Greg from Seattle (political science student).
“I’m the rock star taking some time off to write his songs,” said Marek from Poland (bank manager).
“I wouldn’t mind being a catwalk model,” giggled Sue from Ireland (nurse).
Everyone, at one time or another, wants to be someone else in the company of strangers.
At times, I’m content just being a librarian.
*This story first appeared here.
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