Welcome to Fool for Language

Welcome to Fool for Language, the site for people who are crazy about learning languages - like me! If you are new to this blog, I recommend you read the articles in order. The information will make better sense.

This is my first blog and writing each essay has been much more enjoyable than I expected. I have spent most of my life teaching and, more importantly, learning languages. I have “survived” a wide range of teaching techniques, materials and teachers. The result is that I have a pretty clear idea of what has and has NOT worked for me. Yes, I am opinionated, but even if you don’t agree with me, I hope you will enjoy the stories and think about what gets you “wired” when you dive into the wonderful world of learning another language.

I want to thank some people who have helped me maintain momentum with this blog. To give you, the reader, a break, every 10th essay is written by a guest blogger, all close friends with their own special take on language learning. As for the uploading process, Kurt meticulously proofreads and makes insightful comments on each essay; while Yoh patiently provides technical support, including selection of the vibrant visuals. Thank you!


16. Whining About Wine

This week’s blog entry will stray off the language learning/teaching path but it does involve a large dollop of cultural conundrum. I spent a good part of this summer overseas in several countries working on my language training website, www.sulantra.com. On the way home to Japan, I had a rather messy journey due to a well-meant present received from friends in Sofia, Bulgaria. Later, I wrote a message with words of warning about future gifts for overseas visitors which I e-mailed to a few select friends. They all enjoyed my effort and suggested that I upload the adventure tale to my blog; thus, I present the story below. Enjoy!


Just a quick note from the Narita Express train. I am almost home after living out of a suitcase for six weeks. But before I arrive and the memories subside, I want to spin you a cautionary tale. You really, really must tell everyone in Sofia NEVER to give a present of Bulgarian wine to someone heading to the airport. No matter how delicious the contents, it may sour considerably on the road. This is my sad story.

I packed the precious bottle of wine that Mitko and Beti gave me very carefully in my suitcase – in a mailing tube surrounded by a cotton sweater then tied in a Japanese wrapping cloth for added effect. At first, things seemed to go relatively well. Upon my arrival in Istanbul, I claimed my excessively heavy suitcase (32.4 kilos!) and proceeded to my hotel. So far, so good.

The next day, I bought a few more things (several kilos of olives, CD’s, the usual evil eye trinkets) then carefully repacked my suitcase so that the new purchases would fit in perfectly. I carefully placed the “wine tube” at the bottom of my suitcase to balance the weight and, armed with my passport and a printed version of my online ticket, confidently headed to Istanbul’s Attaturk Airport to check in for my flight. Upon arrival, I was smiling my way through the security check when an official abruptly stopped me. It seems something had shown up on the scanners. Was I carrying a bottle of wine perhaps?

I had to completely unpack my suitcase in front of many curious official Turkish eyes then repack it as a crowd gathered. Everyone was particularly impressed by my wine tube creation. One young female Customs official even nodded her approval and complimented me on my incredible fussiness.

The entire process felt like a form of public humiliation (“Do you tourists really need to take pictures?”) and took forever. I now found myself dashing about lugging a horribly overweight suitcase as I faced more lines, more officials, and glares from other travelers as I tried to jump assorted queues. Still I managed to check-in without being charged for excess baggage so I shouldn’t really complain.

Next stop: Doha, Qatar. This time I was a tad stressed crossing the border since it had occurred to me in-flight that I didn’t have a visa and wasn’t sure if I needed one. I dreaded the official interrogation which obviously lay ahead. As I stood in line for Qatari Immigration, the sweat beads began to form on my brow. Would I be detained, held in custody in a small windowless cell? I’ve watched a few too many inflight movies...

As things turned out, the procedure was relatively painless – a few questions followed by a credit card payment for 100 lira. But wait. Could that be a bottle of alcohol in your suitcase?

Once again, I had to unpack EVERYTHING in front of curious eyes and produce the notorious bottle of Bulgarian wine. This time they confiscated the contraband and provided me with a receipt, all the while chiding me that alcohol was illegal hereabouts. I was told that, if I left the country within a two-week period, I could pick up my precious bottle; otherwise, the goods in question would be destroyed as all evil things should be. The entire process took about an hour, which meant my good friend, Ozgur, was forced to wait outside for over an hour in the Arrivals area uncertain as to whether I had missed my flight – or worse – in Istanbul. Welcome to Qatar.

My time in Doha was short and busy with visits  to Qatar University’s women’s campus and a surreal interlude at a shopping center that resembled a Las Vegas hotel without the alcoholic trimmings. Before I knew it, I was heading once again for Doha International Airport. I left plenty of time in order to pick up my elusive bottle of wine but I wasn’t exactly sure how I would go about retrieving it.

At the check-in counter for my flight they said that I could pick up the bottle after I checked in my suitcase and cleared Immigration. I dutifully did both then wandered about looking for a “Confiscated Alcohol and Other Wicked Items” office. It turned out to be hidden in the back of the terminal with a mountain of contraband goods piled outside the door. I knocked but there was no answer. Again I waited.

After several minutes, an attendant finally popped his head out and before he could scurry away, I produced my receipt and asked for my bottle of Bulgarian wine. He looked rather irritated and said that it would take 20-30 minutes to retrieve since it was in another terminal. I said that I could wait. He mumbled something under his breath and sauntered off.

I spent about 40 minutes checking out the duty free area where I purchased several boxes of dates, the local “must have” souvenir. Then I headed back to the “confiscated alcohol” office. No one was in sight so I waited and waited... and waited!

Finally, a woman walked out of the office and I pounced. I politely explained that I was going to miss my flight, that I didn’t really drink and the only reason I was waiting so long for the bottle of wine was because it was a gift from dear, dear friends and not because I am an alcoholic. The woman sighed, disappeared behind the closed door and did not reappear.

Eventually the original official walked past and I asked about my bottle of Bulgarian wine. Ah, yes, the Bulgarian wine. He reappeared with the goods in question, which I seized and frantically tried to stuff into my carry-on bag. Thanks to my newly purchased dates, this was impossible. I had to unload the carry-on bag, rearrange my boxes of dates, computer, etc. and FINALLY managed to get everything loaded before frantically rushing to board my plane. Safe at last – or so I thought.

There proved to be one last hurdle. My travel agent neglected to tell me that my flight did not go directly to Tokyo but made a stopover in Osaka where everyone had to de-board and GO THROUGH A SECURITY CHECK!! Of course, the Japanese officials insisted on taking the bottle of wine in my carry-on bag. Of course, I insisted that it was a gift from dear, dear, DEAR friends and that I would slit my wrists in front of their surveillance machine if I had to part with it.

A Qatar Airways staff member was called to assist with this difficult passenger. She was not happy. I was told that the bottle would be put in a large plastic bag then tagged, but that it would have to go into the baggage hold with all of the other luggage. If it broke, Qatar Airways could not be held responsible.

Thinking on my feet, I hurriedly pulled out my neck pillow, inflated it with lightning speed, and attached it to the bottle by wrapping the pillow in my pajama bottoms which I always carry at times like these. I then removed my computer from its protective case and stuffed the bottle into the latter. There was no place for the QA woman to attach her baggage tag but I was one step ahead of her. I quickly produced a collapsible bag and put the now rather weird shaped package into it. I crossed my fingers as the attendant attached the baggage tag to the bundle and then stuck the claim stub to my ticket glaring as she did so.

When I arrived at Narita Airport in Tokyo my suitcase was the first item off. I happily loaded it on to a baggage cart then waited for The Bottle... and waited... and waited. Of course, it was the last item to appear on the carousel and I was probably the last person to leave Narita from my QA flight. The good news is that the bottle somehow survived all of this pandemonium. The bad news is that I have most likely been blacklisted by Qatar Airways and will never be able to board one of their flights again.

Next time you are asked what a nice gift would be for someone returning to Japan perhaps a hot pan full of steaming banitsa pastry covered in yogurt sauce would be easier to transport.

P.S. My life is now back to normal – although I suspect that the psychological scarring from the above adventure(s) is permanent.

(If you are really fool for languages, check out my language learning website, http://en.sulantra.com/, with courses from and to EnglishSpanishChineseJapaneseTurkishBulgarianThaiGerman , Korean and Italian!)


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