What should I absolutely not do when visiting your country?

My answer to What should I absolutely not do when visiting your country?

Answer by Enna Morgan:

Guyanese are about the most amiable, hospitable, and helpful people on the planet. It is true, not because I am Guyanese, but because it just is TRUE!. But even the most saintly person will retaliate when pushed beyond their limit, right? I mean, didn’t Gandhi stop eating every time his countrymen pissed him off? Ok, then!

When visiting Guyana, there are not too many rules or cultural faux pas that I can think of that will cost you your head, or a return trip back home, but I will say that there is one particular situation in which you will have to exercise caution, especially if you are from the US or the UK, and have the distinct propensity to regard others as ‘uncultured’ or ‘backwards.’ Here is the story of an unfortunate chappie from the UK.

Many years ago, I was visiting home, and needed to change my flight because there was an awful lot of rioting (racially motivated). The procedure is, like most ‘Third World’ countries, one must go to the airline office (usually full of other passengers with various needs and requests), pick a number, and wait to be called. Bottom line, you could be there for a half-day (conservatively), so cancel all your pressing presidential engagements, pack a lunch, take a book, and just chill!

Well, unfortunately for my fellow Westerner, Mr UK, who was sitting a few chairs from me, he did not have the benefit of my good advice.

Shortly after I joined the seated queue, Mr UK decided that he had waited too long (25 minutes, by his own admission), and from his seat, about 10 feet from the booking agent’s window, he began yelling at her about why he has to wait so long, what is the hold-up, and why is the system so backward in these Third World countries. He went on to further state that where he is from this would be like a walk in the park, and that if she did not know how to get the job done then she should allow him to speak with somone who has the knowledge.

To be sure, he had said a mouthful!

The lady at the window seemed as impressed as a goat eating cheese. She barely raised her eye from what she was doing, and she did so only to identify the rambunctious speaker, really, as she did not even flinch from his comments. In fact, I could be wrong, but I was almost sure that her movements now seemed to have become slower, and more pronounced in their deliberation.

I too, without any superfluous movement, had raised my eyes, but not to look at him, instead, to observe the agent’s reaction, and that of the other patrons. At the time of this occurrence, I had about 17 years in the US, and 16 in Guyana, so from a psychological and sociological viewpoint, I enjoyed an inside/ outside position in this brewing drama.

The security guard exchanged an amused look with the agent, then turned and busied himself with gazing out the door and having a laugh with a phantom person. The other Guyanese in the room regarded Mr UK with a pitying look of resigned doom-dom, as they knew that he had just signed his ‘bump’ papers, and clearly no one wanted to be on that trip to nowhere with him.

I thought it best at that moment to not bring attention to myself least I would be lumped in the ‘Ugly American’ box and receive the same fate as my fine feathered UK compadre. I had little desire for that kind of fresh hell, so I returned my eyes to my book. I did however, keep an active peripheral view on the agent; she was making a point to not acknowledge his tirade, and I know what that meant in Guyanese terms.

The deafening silence resounded loudly, and hung over us like an ominous thundercloud. I could hear the ticking of a clock, though there was none in sight. Or maybe it was the sound of the countdown to the explosion in Mr UK’s head as he waited for of the impendent doom that was a-coming.

From the lack of conviction in his manner and voice, I could see that Mr UK was at this point losing both his verve on, and interest in the line of inquiry he had so carelessly embarked on; in fact, he even seemed to be losing his voice….or maybe it was the loud banging of the words, “Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!” in my head, that made it difficult to hear the rant he had so audaciously began…… Nah! His lips were not moving much, so I am positive that he was indeed back-peddling!

With the enthusiasm of a cat regarding a mouse it had already maimed, the agent asked him to bring his ticket to the her for her to ‘see it;’ that is code for ‘let me get your name.’ She then took it and instructed him to have a seat while she ‘look after it,’ code for ‘delete you off the manifest.’

In other words, he was getting what is known in the Third World countries as ‘bumped.’ That little tantrum just cost him another week or so in a backward country, with the uncivilised people, with whom he will now have more time to rub shoulders and become better acquainted. As my Brazilian friend would say, ‘Life is a beach’ (you know, the Latin speakers pronounce the ‘i’ like an ‘e.’)

Though no one spoke, as I looked around at the sea of ‘oh shit’ expressions, I knew that everyone in the room knew UK’s fate. And judging by the fact that he seemed to have lost the pep in his step as he shuffled his way back to his seat after giving her his ticket, I am sure that he too realised that something had gone radically wrong all of a sudden. As he trudged by he glanced my way, desperately seeking some show of solidarity, but I was too busy playing possum to pay him any attention – I did not want to be found guilty by association. I needed to get on that flight. And besides, I am never one to join forces with stupidity!

A few days later, as I boarded the flight in the wee hours of the morning, I enquired about my audacious waiting room buddy, and it was confirmed that he would be on the next flight out sometime next week.’ He was not as yet aware of that change in his schedule, but the wonderful flight officials would be sure to inform him when he arrives at the airport (a hour and a half ride from the city) and learn that he is not on the flight manifest.

“Oh, the agent had said that your flight was confirmed? Oops, so sorry, but what they tell you in the city is vastly different from the reality at the airport.” Chirps the sweet-smiling check-in agent, as he proceeds to haul your bags to the side and ask you to step aside (as though you have leprosy), while he continues to check in the other passengers, one of who happily found themself on a confirmed flight.

It is a small country (83,000 sq miles), everyone knows each other, and a quick, 2-minute phone call can make a huge difference in your travel plans! Oh, and by the way, the pilots and all the flight attendants are Guyanaese also, so when you do get on that flight it could be the longest and most uncomfortable ride you have ever had.

The moral of the story? When the people in the ‘Thrid World’ hold in their hand your ticket (and your life) back to the ‘civilised world,’ do not haul off and call them backwards or uncivilised, that slight bit of anxiety curiously has been known to cause them circumstantial amnesia, invariably resulting in them forgetting which flight you, and even your luggage are booked on.

I know of a case where someone’s luggage took a trip to Japan, all on its lonesome……I cannot begin to imagine how such a thing could have happened!

What should I absolutely not do when visiting your country?