I have a rule that when I fly I try not to talk to anyone on the plane My reason is simple; I never know how to end the conversation! How can you say to someone sitting next to you, “Thanks very much for your nice chat but now I’d like to get back to my book?” It seems so rude and because of that I have in the past found myself talking to people a lot longer than I intended and genuinely running out of conversation and feeling exhausted in the process.
However, I completely broke my own rules two weeks ago on a plane from my home city of Newcastle in England to Paphos in Cyprus, where I was going to spend a few days with my son. About two hours into the flight, I was sitting quietly reading my Saturday edition of the Times when the man next to me asked if he could get past me. I was sitting in the aisle seat and he was in the middle.
Well, the moment I heard his voice I felt this great compulsion to ask him where he was from. At this point, I have to tell you I am an accent and pronunciation coach which makes my question seem slightly less rude. He very politly told me he was from Russia and that he was a Professor of Mathematics at a university near my city.
We seemed to just glide into conversation and about thirty minutes later I realized that the poor man had spoken to me in the first place because he wanted to go the toilet! He must have been desperate by now. Feeling suddenly very guilty, I quickly got up to let him out, but when he returned he seemed very keen to resume our conversation and we chatted on. He was fascinating! His accent was quite strong and with the noise of the plane, I did struggle to understand him on a couple of occasions. When we finally got on to my favourite subject of accents, he told me that in the nineteen years that he had been an eminent Professor his students had been quite cruel about his accent and had even gone a far as complaining about it! My heart went out to him and I wished I had met him nineteen years ago when I could have helped him.
Naturally being a Neurolanguage Coach and fascinated by neuroscience in general, I managed to steer the conversation towards the brain and he told me something fascinating which I feel I have to share with the Neurolanguage coaches who will read this magazine. I asked him if he preferred his students to take a gap year before going to university and he told me quite adamantly that he certainly did not. This came as a surprise, as many university departments like their students to travel, work and mature for one year before studying. He explained that if a maths student takes one or two years away from mathematics their brain is never quite the same and they never quite achieve the mathematical brain sharpness that they had before the gap year. I found this quite astonishing and such very important information for any budding maths student. Don’t take a gap year!
We were still talking when the fasten your seat belts sign came on and our conversation came to a natural end. It’s not every day I manage an hour’s conversation with a maths Professor from Russia and I felt very enriched by the whole process. I still haven’t changed my opinion on my “no conversation on a flight rule”, as I feel I may never be so lucky in the future but as accents fascinate me I may be tempted again one day.
Have you ever met anyone fascinating on a plane before? I would love to know.