Thursday, 15 November 2007

Touring the land of legend

When you go travelling in the land of urban legends, be sure to carry a map. It is a perilous country where friends of friends' cousins' sister in laws' hairdressers lurk around every corner, waiting to trap you into believing yet another impossible tale that really, really happened.

Even having a tour guide is no guarantee that you'll make it through safely, since tour guides are among the world's most notorious disseminators of urban legends about the places they're supposed to know inside out.

So, if you must behave like a tourist in any strange country, keep your legend detectors on red alert. You may just hear stories like the one about...

The bear truth

A South African visitor to Moscow had just one ambition: he wanted to hunt a genuine Russian wild bear. The local tourist agent knew he didn't have a hope of granting the visitor's wish, since the previous government elite had pretty much wiped out any hunting there was to be done anywhere near civilisation.

So he did the next best thing: he bought the bear from a circus and released it in Moscow's Peredelkino Forest, one-time home of legendary author Boris Pasternak (see the forest's Russian web site here).

The South African was delighted that he could go hunting so close to his hotel, and took to the woods in full hunting uniform, from his khaki uniform and bush hat down to his high performance sporting rifle.

Slowly he closed in on his prey, until he could almost smell the fearsome bear's fur. He was about to begin circling closer and setting his sights, when he heard a strange rattling noise, coming ever closer. He hid behind a tree, and waited. And then a postman appeared riding a bicycle on a path through the forest, heading straight for the bear!

The hunter watched in horror as the postman spotted the bear, lost control and fell off the bicycle. But this was a trained bear; instead of going for the postman, it went for the bike, hopped on, and rode off.

The last that was heard of the South African, he was suing the tourist agent for fraud.

This legend has a long international pedigree, even if the bear doesn't. Here's a version that goes back to 1992.

The ignorant Americans

The moment Americans go one step beyond their hometowns, they get lost in legend country, usually because they'll believe anything they hear about strange places. It's got so bad, that ignorant America tourists have become a stereotype even on their own borders. At least, that's the way the legends go.

Canadians love to tell the story of an American family that believes Canada is a frozen wasteland all the year round. They arrive at the border during mid summer, the guard asks them the purpose of the visit, and they happily announce they're going skiing outside Montreal. Where the snow has, of course, long since turned into lukewarm water.

In a variation on the theme, a big Texan, cowboy hat and all, asks the border guard what time they shut Niagara Falls off.

That's almost as bad as...

The gullible New Zealanders

The story goes that, down under in New Zealand, at one of the Waiotapu natural thermal springs, American tourists got fed up having to wait for the Lady Knox Geyser to go off every day.

"Gee", one of them said one day, "You should fit a switch like the one at Yellowstone". The guide passed the suggestion on to his superiors, who thought it was a great idea. So the clever entrepreneurs at Waiotapu thermal area did just that! Now they turn the Geyser on every morning at 10:30, without fail, except on Christmas day.

It was only later that they discovered that the one in Yellowstone doesn't have a switch...

No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites