Frankfurt, Germany How to Win Friends and Avoid Getting Shot

Over the last couple hundred flights, I’ve decided the notion of sitting next to someone cool and interesting is, essentially, mythical. Pleasant surprise, then, to meet a programmer from San Diego on her way to Rome to teach a course in C++. She’d just come back from Honduras, where she installed a water filtration system for a village, and confirmed the existence of a weird Captain Nemo guy who built his own private submarine and will take passengers down to 3000 feet. She also lived in Paraguay and spent a couple weeks with a tribe in Indonesian Borneo.

"And what do you do?"

Here’s where I always derail.

For brief acquaintances, I try to avoid going there altogether. When cornered, I demure, which invariably backfires and comes off as: "I’m kind of a big deal."

"I…uh…make videos…for the internet."
"Oh. Like stupid YouTube stuff?"

My old cover story of working in videogames has grown stale. The last game I worked on is several years old, which sounds suspicious, and I’m too crappy of a liar to attempt a total fabrication. So I just get evasive and weird. Explaining what I do to someone who has no idea what I do just kind of sucks.

I seem to have avoided a looming luggage debacle. I had a free flight to Israel as the back end of a round-trip booking from the last leg of my trip. I figured that’d get me most of the way to my first destination, Yemen, but what I failed to realize is this: Israel is actually farther away from the rest of the Middle East than Europe. If you want to go from Tel Aviv to the nearest capital in any direction, you need to fly through Athens or Istanbul or Frankfurt.

I decided instead to skip my Frankfurt-to-Tel Aviv flight and catch a new booking to Yemen by way of Cairo. All good and fine, except my bag got checked through to Tel Aviv. Turns out people get really edgy when they think you’re trying to put a bag on a plane to Israel without getting on the plane yourself.

I sorted things out. While my default travel disposition is “Señor Crabbypants,” I’ve learned the benefits of plastering a big dopey smile on my face. Come to think of it, that’s sort of the underpinning of my current existence.

Thank you, once again, Dale Carnegie.

I regret aspects of my last post. I will try to avoid using the phrase “grand undertaking” for the rest of my natural life. I am a pompous ass and clearly due for a smacking.

I’m not sure yet whether Yemen is one of those dangerous-sounding places that is actually ridiculously safe or one of those dangerous-sounding places that really is ridiculously dangerous. Lonely Planet says things like:

135 tourists were kidnapped between 1996 and 2000, but don’t worry because none of them were killed…except for 16 of them who were.

Guns outnumber people in Yemen, but I’m pretty sure they outnumber people in my country too. It’s common to see civilians shouldering Kalashnikovs, but apparently they’re considered a fairly meaningless fashion accessory.

There is a definite and substantial Al Qaeda presence in the region. They tend to be foreigners though, living illegally, and they’re unlikely to be found in cities.

These are the more alarming details. There’s plenty of other reassuring information, though, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be okay as long as I follow the enduring maxim: DON’T BE AN IDIOT.

Also, big smile.