The importance of a phrasebook on holiday…

Recent reports have explained how a Polish man recently spent 18 days in São Paolo’s airport.  Having arrived at the airport on a flight from London the 17th June, he finally left the airport on Tuesday 5th July.  In a story reminiscent of the Tom Hanks film “The Terminal” (though without the appearance of Catherine Zeta Jones, as far as I’m aware), Robert Wladyslaw Parzelski arrived at the airport, on a mission to go to Brazil and then return to England with two telephones.  Why he was undertaking this trip with this particular goal in mind is, as yet, unknown.

Parzelski had arranged to meet a friend at the airport but when his friend did not show up, the penniless Polish 44-year-old who was travelling solo and doesn’t speak any Portuguese, remained in the airport.  Staff at the airport took pity on him, providing him with water, yoghurt and cigarettes while they tried to find out why he was there.  He explained to people “I’m Poland” – which was misunderstood by airport employees, who referred to him as “The German”…

Newspaper reporters eventually found a doctor who was able to communicate with Parleski and discovered that he was, in fact, stranded inside the airport. He was then soon on a flight back to London via Zurich.

Stories like this one do highlight just how fundamentally important language and communication are.  Would this man have ventured outside had his command of the Portuguese language been better?  If he had even had a guidebook or phrasebook?  Whilst a tourist may feel slightly helpless, and possibly a little embarrassed, at not being able to ask directions or order correctly in a foreign language, when a situation such as this arises, being able to communicate and explain your situation really is vital.  Had he been able to explain the situation, perhaps Parzelski would have been on his way home to his family a lot sooner.  If he had simply been able to ask the way to the Polish Embassy, the situation could have been resolved more rapidly.  So there is a lesson to be learnt – never travel without a phrasebook!

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