THE MAITRE ’D SCOWLED. He blocked the entry to the restaurant, saying: “We have a dress code, sir.”
My companion, who was wearing flip-flops and a tent-like shirt from a factory outlet, looked offended and retorted: “This is the national dress of my country, the Democratic Republic of Dontundistan. I am the ambassador.”
I backed him up: “He’s right, you know.”
The restaurant captain let us in to the restaurant at the Peninsula, a fabulous expensive hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong.
I wasn’t lying. Dontundistan is a country I made up, so I can appoint anyone I like to be ambassador.
That was 20 years ago, but the bizarre customs of human beings still confuse people.
Washington airport officials recently stopped a man from Ghana who was carrying elephant tails, a hedgehog, sheets soaked in the blood of sacrificed chickens, and a package of dirt.
I forwarded the report, from the Baltimore Sun newspaper, to Bob Palitz, who reads this column from Africa, with a question: “So, do business travelers normally carry a bag of dirt, elephant tails, etc?”
Bob, from Ghana, said magic items were used to keep laptops running. “The poor man must have been traveling with a laptop running Windows XP. Personally, I’m running Windows 7 so now I only carry a small sachet of fairy dust and type with my fingers crossed.”
But you can’t always use the “my ethnic group has bizarre habits” excuse.
Two women were arrested at the airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka for walking funny. Airport police found half a kilo of gold up their bottoms, I heard from reader Rusty de Niese. No doubt the gals tried a variety of excuses about local traditions, but to no avail. Yes, Sri Lankans like to wear gold, but we keep it where it can seen.
On a related subject, reader Wanda Cheng sent me this Top Tip of the Week: “If airport customs officers ask: ‘Do you have any illegal substances on you?’ do NOT reply: ’Sure, what do you need?’”
Thanks, Wanda, I’ll try to remember. It’s just the sort of stupid thing I say at airports.
A quick search of Google News reveals that a man was stopped while trying to take a dead tiger through customs at Aberdeen Airport in Scotland. I reckon he was just old fashioned. That would have been normal luggage for Brits returning from Asia 100 years ago, but less so today.
In Australia, customs officers are famous for swooping on innocent items.
A UK friend of mine was accused of violating the “no plants” rule because he flew into Sydney with a GUITAR.
I guess guards were worried he might plant it in the ground and grow some British folk singers.
Come to think of it, maybe the guys in uniform made a wise decision.
Many years ago, a Sri Lankan friend of mine was travelling with so much illegal gold strapped to his body that he could barely move.
To his horror, the plane made an unscheduled overnight stop.
“I just fell backwards onto the hotel bed and stayed in that position until morning,” he said.
He later swore that no amount of money was worth that much stress and misery.
So he gave up smuggling and went into the newspaper business.
Only then did he discover the true meaning of the words “stress and misery”.