In my first Anthropology class, my professor told a funny story about being in a New Guinea island , with his new wife, studying a small tribe. He had forgotten to tell his wife to stay back and observe the tribe for a couple of weeks before actually dinning with them. His wife, apparently very adventurous, and a hippy (this was in the 60’s) decided to learn to weave on their 3rd day. My Prof apparently was having a meeting with the chief at the same time. He then heard some commotion, some screaming and a heck of a lot of loud apologies. apparently his wife stepped over a mans legs when maneuvering from one side of the hut to other. In this tribe, sex was not how you got pregnant. A mans “spirit” entered into a woman when she stepped over his legs. Yup, sounds kind of funny, but my poor professor had to apologize, but never tell anyone that his wife was not going to get pregnant this way. I am not sure, but this story has stuck to me, and you will understand why, when you keep reading.
Flying alone can actually be cathartic, for business it usually meant I had a few hours of zoning out time, watching a girly moving while eating a dinner, without a blackberry going off, brilliant!
My seat, well it was in the first row of economy class, so the good news was I at least had no one in front of me. The bad news, I had a 6’4 French man sitting next to me. I was in the window seat and he was on the aisle. Then they announced that the t.v was not working. CRAP!!! Would this mean the dreaded small talk?
We quietly ate dinner. He politely moved every time I had to go to the bathroom (which was frequently). Then he fell asleep, which meant I didn’t have to make polite conversation. Somehow they got the t.v’s to work. Thank goodness, I can zone out and fall asleep in front of a movie, but as always my bladder was speaking to me, I looked at the gentleman beside me, his feet were stretched out, he was very much asleep. I didn’t want to disturb him. Ok, I guess I can step over him, but which way? Do you step over with your bum facing him or do you straddle him face to face. This type of stuff actually runs through my head. I want to be polite, and what happens if I slip, oh no. Neither way was any good, I just had to choose one.
After about 20 minutes of situational paralysis, I chose to step over him, face to face, I guess it wouldn’t be so awkward if he woke up. I managed to do it no problem, came back, no problem.
I must have fallen asleep for a bit. Woke up, and had to go again. So, I took a deep breath and carefully stepped over him (o.k it was more straddling than anything), I breathed a sigh of relief when I managed to do it. When I came back, the aisle was dark and as I stepped, my foot got caught in my head set, and I went down straddling the stranger. He woke up so quickly, and was stunned, I was terribly embarrassed, went red and apologized. There was long awkward silence, he burst out laughing, and said that it wasn’t everyday a strange woman straddled him awake on an airplane, of course he was embarrassed, but incredibly gracious. In this moment I was struck by how bizarre and uncomfortable close quarters really are. How crossing over someones legs is rather, well, intimate in many ways, and that story from first year anthropology class came to mind. I think I felt the same embarrassment as the professors’ wife at that point. I knew I wasn’t going to get pregnant for that, but, you actually understood why the tribe felt that was how you got pregnant. The gentleman beside me, kindly said it was fine, but that he thought that I should at least come over to meet his wife for coffee when we got to Paris.
I did meet his wife in the airport, but declined the coffee. I never actually wanted to see the man again.
It always make me wonder, how do you recover from these moments?