Thursday, January 1, 2009

What If I Do Speak Chinese?

My holiday travel this year was fraught with unexpected changes, as I guess most holiday travel is. On my way into SFO, we had to circle for a while because the airport was fogged in. After a while, the pilot announced that we’d be landing in Oakland instead. That would be good for me, closer to home now, but they didn’t know if we’d be allowed to de-plane or if they’d off load the luggage or if we’d just stop to refuel and then fly across the Bay to SFO once the fog had cleared. And of course, there were people on the flight with connections out of SFO that would have to be dealt with.

A man from behind and across from me got up and went to talk to the flight attendant. I could hear exactly what he was saying, but he was obviously wondering about the logistics of us landing in OAK and how he would get where he needed to be. He went back and sat down. They really don’t know if they’d be bussing people to SFO or what. They wouldn’t know until we were met at the gate by someone from the airline.

As we descended, it looked like we were flying up the wrong side of the Bay to be going into Oakland. I was pretty sure we were on an SFO approach. Sure enough, I overheard the flight attendant, who must have been answering someone else’s similar suspicion, that the pilot had told him he was going to take one pass at SFO first and see if he could make it in before circling around to OAK.

We landed. It was a little hairy as at times you couldn’t see a damned thing as we were coming down, but apparently only the south end of the runways were fogged in, so once we got passed them it was all clear.

As soon as we land, the guy behind and across from me turns on his phone and makes a call. I can’t quite hear or understand what he’s saying, but I hear “Oakland” a bunch of times and “car”. So I turn to him and say “We’re in San Francisco.”

“Excuse me,” and he puts his phone down.

“We landed in San Francisco.”

Sure enough, just then, the flight attendant comes on to say we landed at SFO.

As we were leaving the guy asked me how I knew what he was doing. I said I’d seen him go talk to the flight attendant and I could tell we’d landed in San Francisco. He said “Oh, I thought maybe you understood Chinese.”

Nope, hardly a word, but I guess that’s one reason I’ve never had that much trouble farting around in countries where I didn’t speak the language. I read body language and pick up on social cues well enough to have a general idea what the hell someone is trying to tell me.

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