Okay, it’s no secret, if there’s a social faux pas to be made, I’ll make it. But then I also tell people the reason I’m a good travel writer is because if there’s an opportunity to get lost, I’ll make it and then be able to tell my readers what to watch out for.
So, what gaffs have I made?
Take this, please
On a Caribbean island nation, I was part of a plane load of travel writers and tourism officials who had flown in that day. I had to get up at 4 am to be at the Halifax airport for a 7 am flight to New York to catch a direct flight south that afternoon. That evening, two time zones away and 17 hours later I was at a cocktail party. I didn’t know who was who. The guests were all casually dressed in shirts and shorts. One man in a suit walked by. Naturally, I assumed anyone so over-dressed in the tropics was the maitre d’. So I handed him my plate. He smiled graciously and handed it to the military officer in gold braid next to him. Turns out he was the Prime Minister! In my own defense, the plate wasn’t really dirty, just a couple of shrimp tails on it.
The Gardener Who Wasn’t
On a visit to the gardens at Lismore Castle in Ireland, I picked up some garbage blowing along a path. Nearing the castle, I saw a man in old corduroy pants and a brown sweater with holes at the elbows. He was bent over, between two jumping dogs, using a small trowel to flick dog shit off the grass on to the rose bushes. Figuring he was the gardener I handed him the garbage. He said, “Thanks.” And I continued taking photos of the garden.
It turns out he wasn’t the gardener but the Duke of Devonshire!
His Grace has a different title in Ireland. I would have expected that when in residence his pennant would be raised on the flagstaff on the castle tower, but it wasn’t on this day.
Back in the small bus we had for our group of travel writers, I told my colleagues what I did. Our guide told us about the time he was touring a group around England. As they rolled down the drive of one of the great estates, he pointed out a man and said to his charges, “There’s His Grace, the Duke of Norfolk.”
Our guide shook his head. “No sooner had the bus stopped than one woman from New York, rushed out the door, screaming, ‘Dukie, yoohoo, Dukie!” She corned him, grabbed him and clutched him to her chest as she ordered others to snap photos with her camera.
Our guide said, “I was mortified. I tried to hide and made it to the café and was seated there, sipping my coffee when I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. It was His Grace. He said, ‘Young man, would you do me the favour of not identifying me to your charges on future visits’.”
Spot the Heathen
On a trip to London, I was staying at the Thistle Charing Cross, which is wonderfully convenient place to stay. It’s above the train station and across from St. Martin’s-in-the-Field. When you stay here you can walk to a ton of major attractions.
So, on Saturday evening, rushing past St. Martin’s, a person shoved a handbill at me advertising a musical evening of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I like this music, but was trying to get to a performance by Peter O’Toole.
However, the next evening I had nothing on my schedule so when I saw a crowd of people standing on the steps at the front of St. Martin’s, I rushed up and asked a woman, “What’s on this evening?”
She, with all the polite contempt she could muster, glared at me and said, “Church.”
Ah, yes, it was Sunday.
In April 2008, I was in Scotland on a golf, whisky and ancestry tour I called swingin’, swiggin’ and searchin’ week.
As part of this trip I stayed at Winton House, which has been home of the Ogilvy family for over 500 hundred years. The current owner is Sir Francis Ogilvy, who happens to be a Baronet of Nova Scotia. He’s the 14th in his family.
As a kid growing up in Nova Scotia, the baronets were part of the history course. Whenever I’ve been to Edinburgh with colleagues or friends I have pointed out the almost hidden sign to the baronets (there’s a bench covering it) at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. So, on being introduced to Sir Francis he was keen to know about Nova Scotia since his trips to Canada haven’t included the province. I told him I was surprised to learn there were any baronets still alive.
Fortunately, he found that amusing.