Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Anything But Ask For Directions

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published March 23, 2016] © 2016

It’s a common stereotype that guys won’t ask for directions. But my husband has taken it to another level. He will absolutely Not Ask For Directions Ever Under Any Circumstances Period.

If I hadn’t been really aware of it before, I learned just how strongly he felt about it when I was meeting him at the downtown courthouse some years ago so that we could get our marriage license. I had looked forward to this moment for all eight years that Olof had been commuting down from the Bay area to San Diego on weekends. Now he’d finally been able to relocate here and we were getting married.

But 45 minutes after the appointed time, I was starting to get worried. Olof is never late. When he finally arrived, he was in an uncharacteristically foul mood. Olof is one of the most even tempered people you’ll ever meet. It then suddenly occurred to me the source of this massive unhappiness: unfamiliar with downtown San Diego, he’d been so lost he’d finally been forced to ask for directions.

This was the first and to this day only known instance in which he has done so. He also plans to never do it again.

I’ve written before that Olof and I are the Bobbsey Twins of Directional Disability. We can get lost getting to places we’ve been a dozen times. We can especially get lost finding places we’ve never been to before. This was definitely true during our two year work assignment in Europe a few years ago, and during the numerous side trips we took during that time. When we first got to our new European home, we were perpetually lost.

Now, one of us, when lost, will accost the nearest clerk or police officer or even friendly-looking person to ask for directions while the strategy of the other of us is to wander around aimlessly in a senseless idiotic stupor hoping to stumble upon wherever it is one is looking for. I will not say who is who.

One of us not only won’t ask for directions but can’t even bear to be within 50 yards of directions being asked. Just when the other one of us – okay, it’s me - would finally get some helpful local to point us in the right direction I would suddenly find that Olof was nowhere in sight. I’d look around, puzzled. “Hmm,” I’d say, “I’ve lost my husband.” 

“Tall guy? Baseball hat?”


“He’s over there, under that bridge.”

But this was all good practice for when we headed for a week-long trip to Norway, where our opportunities to get lost were exponentially greater. I would give Olof thirty seconds to disassociate himself from any suggestion that he and I were together before I accosted an airline clerk, railway ticket agent, or even hapless stranger. I wouldn’t have minded getting a little gratitude for this, but Olof persisted in believing that if given enough time, he could have figured out where we should go, and that asking for directions should be reserved only for the direst emergency circumstances, like the plane is leaving in two minutes and we’re in the wrong terminal. No, I’m not sure even that would be dire enough.

Taking the train from Milan to Lake Como on another trip some months later, it didn’t make sense to me that we would get off the train in Saronno going in one direction, then get on a train to Como which was seemingly going back in the direction from which we just came. Turns out that’s the way it is, but one wants to be sure. I hated to cause Olof pain, but I also wanted to take the train in the right direction. Olof, on the other hand, would rather get on the train to Chechnya than query this. When I pointed out that plenty of other people – yes, even persons of the male persuasion –were making a similar inquiry about the train direction, Olof simply sniffed, “yeah, and they’re probably wearing women’s underwear.” 

Of course, these days there are all sorts of map apps you can have on your phone, not that this would help Olof. I wear progressive lenses so that when Olof and I got really, really lost and ended up in parts of Old Tallinn that probably even the Estonians have forgotten about, I could actually read the fine print on a map. Olof does possess reading glasses but somehow those glasses end up getting left back at the hotel whenever he and I are strolling around a new city. Because to have to bring them out to read a map or an iPhone app would mean acknowledging that we were lost. Olof maintains he is never lost.

He is only temporarily misplaced. And that, he maintains, is a huge difference.


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