by Nancy Bestor
Robert Louis Stevenson is quoted as saying, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced this. Something that is so easily accomplished here at home becomes nearly impossible elsewhere. Once, a friend and I were stuck at the Moscow Airport. The driver we had expected to meet us had not showed up. We tried to use the payphone again and again and again. We could hear the English-speaking operator on the other end of the line, but she couldn’t hear us. Come to find out, payphones in Russia (12 years ago anyway) required one to hold down a button when talking. Who knew? We were the foreigners. Another time our family sat down at a restaurant way off the beaten tourist path in Nha Trang, Vietnam. This place was in no guidebook, and there was not a single English speaker to be found. They handed us menus (no English, no photos) and looked at us expectantly. Nearly every other time we’d been in this situation, a few gestures, some pointing and smiles from each of us got the job done. Not here. We had to get up and find a nearby restaurant listed in our Lonely Planet guidebook. We were the foreigners.
These are the reasons we travel however, to experience life in other countries. To hear their languages, practice their customs, eat their food, and in some cases, even meet their celebrities.
I’ll admit, when it comes to celebrities, I have stars in my eyes. I get excited and even a little sweaty when I’m near fame. I can’t say this happens very often. I once rang up a few purchases for Patrick Duffy (from the television show Dallas), and was recently in a small t-shirt store with Golden State Warrior player David Lee. But I am sad to report that I’ve never been in the same room with huge names, like Justin Timberlake or George Clooney, seen at left in the wax museum. (Talk about sweaty. If I was in the same room with JT or GC, you could wring me out like a dishrag.)
Thus on a recent flight from San Francisco to Mexico City, when a team of young Mexicans in matching sweatshirts boarded the plane, I was thinking that they must be some sort of teenage athletic team, flying home from a week long camp in the Bay Area. Always nosy, I asked the group of players in the row in front of me who they were, and what they were doing in San Francisco. They replied that they had played an exhibition match. I said, “In soccer?” Yes, they replied politely. When I asked what age group they were, they spoke to each other rapidly in Spanish, then replied, politely once again, that they were all ages of players. I nodded and went back to reading my National Enquirer (just kidding, it was The New Yorker).
So when we landed in Mexico City, I was surprised when the United ground crew employees stared at our deplaning group of soccer players. Then, as we exited the jet way, several Mexican children got in the act, smiling, waving and taking pictures of them. Finally, when we got out of customs and bag check, at least half a dozen camera crews with lights, microphones and well-dressed reporters approached various players, and began peppering them with questions and comments, while locals ran up for autographs.
Well it turns out we flew from San Francisco to Mexico City with the Mexican National Soccer Team. To put that into perspective, we were on the plane with the Mexican equivalents of Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, LeBron James and the like. Unlike the above-mentioned athletes, however, the soccer players were flying in economy class.
I’m quite sure when I was asking my nosy questions and trying to determine what sport these NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM players were participating in, they were not making sure they understood me when they spoke rapidly to each other in Spanish. Instead, they were saying, “This woman doesn’t know that we are soccer players, and she thinks we are teenage boys. She must be a foreigner.”