The World Traveler

A story with lots of American English idioms for ESL learners by Carol A. Chapelle

"I'm not going to beat around the bush," announced J. B. Jacobson, head of the marketing division for a large electrical components firm in the U.S. "This company will surely go under if we don't concentrate on developing our potential foreign market. We have to get in on the ground floor in the South American countries." Moments later, five of the executives sitting around the conference table were appointed to move to various countries in South America to promote business. Jack Clark, one of those named, did not bat an eye at the thought of being transferred to Venezuela. He knew that he simply needed to brush up on his Spanish and the change would be very interesting. Daniel Brunson, on the other hand, knew that foreign languages were not at all up his alley. Dan was very unhappy at the thought of leaving his house on the west side, but he knew that they had him over a barrel. He had to accept the transfer to the designated city or get the axe. He accepted the assignment and crossed his fingers that the move would work out.

The company, of course, intended to foot the bill for the trip. They also took care of most of the details of the move. This left Dan with one major arrangement to make: He had to figure out how to get his huge dog, Bernie, to their new location. Dan's friends thought that transporting a 70-pound Airedale to a foreign country was a half-baked idea, but Dan was determined that, by hook or by crook, his best friend would accompany him. When he called the airport to make arrangements, he found out that the dog had to be transported in a box that would ride in the luggage compartment of the plane. Dan was not tickled with the idea of his best friend riding in the luggage compartment, but he decided that if this was the only way, he would have to do it. When the day of the trip came, Dan arrived at the airport--dog in box--and boarded the plane.

The flight from Detroit to Miami was so late that Dan got to the plane leaving for Bogota just in the nick of time. His mind had been focused on catching the plane until he heard the fight attendant beginning to speak in Spanish to the passengers. As he listened with no comprehension, he began to get cold feet about the whole adventure. He was amazed that after only six short months of study, he was expected to understand this foreign language. He thought about his nice house on the west side, and about poor Bernie in the box with the luggage. He thought about the four other executives from his company who were in the same boat, but that did not make him feel any better. He thought about his new life that was just around the corner.

When Dan arrived the airport in Bogota, he still had one more flight to catch which would take him to his final destination. But he had a little time to kill so he decided to get something to eat. He went into a restaurant only to find a menu written in Spanish and a waiter who began talking to him very quickly. Dan could not make heads or tails out of what the waiter was saying, so he decided that verbal communication was going to be out of the question. Just as he was beginning to fear that he might starve before learning Spanish, he noticed that the woman sitting at the next table had something to eat that looked good. He decided that he could try to follow suit and pointed to her plate. His action seemed to offend the woman. Of course, Dan had not intended to be out of line, but he did not know how to apologize. His food came. He did not know what it was, but as luck would have it, it tasted good.

Dan began looking for his next flight. He walked out of the restaurant, and right off the bat he met a nice Colombian woman who recognized that he was a fish out of water in this busy Spanish-speaking airport. Dan was delighted when she asked him in English if she might help him. In fact, she bent over backwards to be friendly to him as she made short work of finding the gate from which his next plane would depart. Dan watched as two flight attendants loaded Bernie's box onto the plane and then he boarded.

The flight finally departed taking Dan to his final destination. As he deplaned and looked around the small, strange airport, he felt very lonely. However, his thoughts quickly shifted back to his poor friend who had been in the box for such a long time. As soon as the box had been removed from the plane and placed inside the terminal, Dan opened it to let Bernie out. A look of shock spread across the faces of the crowd as the huge dog jumped out. Poor Bernie had become extremely wound up as a result of so many hours in the box. Now that he was finally out, he got completely out of hand. Things went from bad to worse as Bernie began running through the crowded airport to the restaurant, where he helped himself to the food on several of the tables. Four people in uniforms appeared immediately and Dan knew Bernie was in hot water. Dan tried to keep his head and explain to the officials that his dog had not intended to cause any trouble. They understood nothing that he said. Dan was at his wits' end as they captured Bernie and took him from the airport.

Dan felt certain at this point that traveling was not his cup of tea. Since he did not know the ropes in this foreign country, he decided that he had better go to the U.S. Embassy for assistance in locating his dog. At the embassy, he explained that he was in a bind. When he told them how his dog had been arrested and taken from the airport, the embassy personnel assured him that they would help him find his dog. Dan was very happy to hear that they would be able to help with Bernie, but at the same time, he recognized that he had definitely gotten off on the wrong foot in South America.