As travelers, there’s an allure for us to do interesting things and to be engaged in the culture of the country we visit. Why not? It’s fun, stimulates the mind, recharges the spirit and we come back with some fun stories about how we Ran with the Bulls (and got gored) or went on a Safari (and a lion only ate half of our arm).
How about going to a quaint, sleepy village on the Irish coast? Peace and quiet is a good thing.
I spent six, excellent months in a languid, little place and physically exerted myself to train for an event. Daily, I ran and performed calisthenics on the beach. It was one of the most beneficial moments of my training life. It gave me the chance to get my head clear and focus on the next major task at hand.
I’d been an attraction to the locals for a long while. As the lads sat upon the stony-shore walls, smoking cigarettes and drinking their beers, they watched the red-faced American huffing and puffing as he ran up and down the sand dunes, and swam into the waters. On a good day, the locals said you might see a whale, (never saw one) and on a bad day when it rained you could engulf yourself in the hospitality of the pub and café culture; a pint of cider or a hot cup of coffee would open up your gills and let you release whatever stress you felt.
The hilly village had smoky colored hills, and deep-colored green tree-lines that flanked her sides. The little homes, dotting the hillsides, were constructed in a bumbling kind of imperfect way. The homes had that oddly peculiar look that made them pleasing to your eyes.
I bumped into the pub owner one day at the Chipper shop (Fish and Chips shop) and he invited me to his establishment. Told me they turned it into a disco at night-time, and the locals have a great time, doing karaoke and ‘having a laugh’. I’d stayed away from the pub life for a good minute, because I felt it took me off plan. I knew most of the locals by sight. I liked tame. One night, likely the best version of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” rendition came smoothly through my room window. An Irish singer from a traveling band mesmerized me with his command of the country song.
I entered the pub. The place was packed with probably everyone from the village. I leaned up against the bar and ordered a Bulmer’s Cider and made small talk with the Portuguese fisherman who was killing time. Within two sips of my lovely cider, which contained in total 5 teaspoons of unhealthy sugar, 1 chair smashed open the skin of his brow, and seven hefty lads began beating us with their ten strong fingers curled up to make good-sized fists. He bled everywhere. Blood shot all over the floor and bar counter. Punches came down upon us from all angles.
Clearly I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We fought back, and I gave better than I got, with the barstool I used on a fellas head. Too bad it didn’t go on longer. I was using the tables for my defilade and resisting a good amount of blows. Within seconds it ended. The bouncers, and the Gardai (the Guardians of the Peace) who were moonlighting, separated the mass of thrashing bodies. Through the verbal jousting and drunken screaming I was asked what happened.
I turned to face two Gardai to give my response. They were too busy listening to me speak to realize the weak grip they had on the initiator of this drunken melee allowed him to come free. He charged me and punched me squarely in the mouth. I crashed to the floor and with his quick action the melee started again. I slowly regained my footing, paused, looked at the circus before me, and crawled through the horrified crowd. I exited the building; no one stopping me.
The next morning, the Gardai showed up at my room. They asked me questions. Told me everything was caught on video tape. One officer apologized and the other one told me, “If you had wanted to give him a few good strikes to the face we would’ve looked the other direction.” No. I thanked him. They were serious.
I was back to training mode, and I chalked that up as just one weird incident in many that I’ve experienced. It was time to get back to my sand runs. A week later, the Portuguese fisherman came back with his friends and beat the instigator prettily with an iron bar. All was good. He was actually an American upstart who went home to Boston.
So you want to drink in a foreign bar huh?
Irish Pubs are no different from English Taverns and American Bars. You’re more likely to die or be injured from heart disease, cancer, a stroke, liver disease, influenza or diabetes sooner than you’d get punched in the nose. Equally, more deaths or injuries come from car accidents, falls, drownings and firearms. So pub life is actually not a bad thing at all, if you want to have a pint of beer, in a foreign town. You may get involved in an oddball situation but that’s rare. You’re actually going to have a better chance of dying from being born than getting killed in a pub. Yep, 10,000 people of out 10,000 will die upon being born, so don’t live your life fearfully. Get out there, have some fun, and try to maintain some situational awareness.
Few of us are highly trained, ninja, black ops, cage-fighters. The best thing you can do is to avoid a fight if at all possible. My philosophy today is to walk away, and if you can’t then hit them hard. I’m all about turning the other cheek (and I have had a few people spit in my face too, and laugh as I departed) but when someone is punching me in the back of the skull, enough’s enough.
Keep in mind that if you do get in a fight in a foreign country, you are beholden to the rules and laws of that nation. I’m not a huge fan of traveling to places where the police force is used to bribery, theft is a way of life, and the police might ignore your requests or demands. Stay well-within defined tourist locales. Outside of our more popular paradises are what’s called the impoverished paradises. These are going to have a bar culture and a police culture very different from what you know.
Remember you are a guest, a tourist in a foreign land. No one likes the ugly American. Try to not bring attention to yourself, like the American kid who said aloud, “All Irish people are stupid!” and then fell off the hill and landed on broken glass, at Clare Castle.
There are so many photogenic places, where you can get great meals, have a wonderful time snorkeling, hiking and bike riding. The night life is great too! But in the impoverished paradises, the huge problem is there are far too many people and not enough resources to go around. My buddy got a promotion and is moving to Korea. He also met his wife in Thailand. Good things can happen to world travelers. But when it comes to lesser developed countries or impoverished nations, like China, Kenya, Bangladesh, Haiti to name a few, be careful. They have this problem. Places like Vietnam, Brazil, Nigeria are all photogenic places as well but tensions can be high. Why?
Everyone is competing for menial jobs, and law enforcement struggles to make ends meet too. If you happen to get into a disagreement with someone, try to resolve it, rather than trying to entirely get your way. Resolve it, and move on to enjoy your vacation.
Here’s how to handle yourself:
1. Avoid Conflict– Remember Ralph Macchio in the Karate Kid? Yeah he took a lot of abuse. Just because you can fight back and win, doesn’t mean that you should fight. Just don’t get into a bar fight in the first place. Most fights escalate from something tame real quick. But, a tame situation can remain tame. Stay calm, be passive, try to dissolve the situation and exit. Sure, you look like a weeny, but you get to keep your good looks, and that wonderful nose that God gave you? Well… Oh, and one more thing. I personally know two people stabbed to death after a bar brawl.
2.Run Away-Sound like the sissy thing to do? Did you read what I wrote above? Unless you are U.S. Marine Brian Stann or Army Green Beret Tim Kennedy, then just get out of trouble. You don’t need to get a glassing to the top of your head, or worse, to your face. In the end, you enjoy your vacation, and can think about how you ‘could have’ hurt the other guy but chose not to. Don’t you want to be a good role model to your kids, family and your nation as an ambassador? You don’t have to run, but definitely get out of there quick. Or do you want to tell the other story? The story where your eye socket was broken and you spent the night in jail. The story where your wife left on the next plane to America and you were hauled off before the judge to spend 30 hot days in a chicken wire cage during their summer. Think about it. The sun beaming down on your head all day might not be a good thing.
3. Hit them first-If you get a REAL good sense that the fight is coming, and you are backed into a bad situation, then you better hit first. Hit first and hit really hard. You’ll have to deal with the potential good beating you will get. But, if you get the first hit, he might not ever be able to hit back. This is because the first blow usually sets the tone for the way the rest of the fight will go. The first hit can potentially throw the opponent off-balance and you can drive in with a few other attacks. Yeah, you could end up in a tussle on the floor. But, with some good luck the bouncers will split you two up. If you DO get the first hit, and he goes down, stay on him and be brutal.
4. Let the bouncers break it up and listen to what the police say. If you tried to get out of it, and witnesses are willing to account for your actions, it’s going to look good for you.
Again, if you are going to travel overseas, make sure you know what you’re getting into. Could this happen in many place in America? Sure it could but the laws are different here too, right?Traveling alone is difficult to do. Read the travel advisories online. There are too many stories about tourists who have been stabbed to death or beaten badly in a bar environment. Know what you’re potentially walking into before going in. Sometimes you ‘ll have to find a way out of conflict. Take responsibility for yourself and try to behave yourself. You should have a pretty good time.