I’ve been fortunate enough to travel not only for vacation, but for work travel as well. The upside is all the miles and points I gain that can be used towards my jet setting. The downside, well I’m not exactly going to all the hot spots around the world. Here’s a little story about one of the more interesting places I went to and one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had while traveling.
In 2011, I traveled to Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. It’s definitely not the most popular place in Canada to visit or even in Newfoundland. Most people are familiar with St. John’s Newfoundland – which has the easternmost point in North America.
Beautiful, right? But not where I was.
During my long days at work, I made friends with the local journalists, who convinced me to go out with them on a Friday night. Normally I’m allowed to head back to NYC on the weekends, but since Grand Falls-Windsor was such a remote place to get to, I was hanging around all weekend. So why not! Little did I know what they had in store for me…
All the week before, I was regaled with stories of “screech” – a local Newfoundland liquor (rum to be exact), said to be so strong that I would keel over on impact or grow chest hair. Or both! I arrived at the local hangout, Trapper Johns – and it was packed! Upon a quick glance around, I noticed I was not only the only black person there, but the only minority period. I kept it moving and met up with my journalist colleagues. About an hour or so into the evening, my name came over the loudspeaker and I was shoved into the center of the bar.
Now let me set the scene for you. I’m a young, single black woman in the middle of Newfoundland and Labrador, in a bar pretty much in the middle of nowhere, where there wasn’t a single face that looked remotely like mine. The nature of my work makes me a much more low-key person when traveling for business, so I was already mortified – I stuck out like a sore thumb! Although to be honest, I stuck out the entire time I was there, as well. What added to the mortification was the fact that the entire bar began shouting my name. Imagine a hundred or so people raising their glasses and shouting your name over and over to take center stage. I won’t tell you what kinds of imagery went through my head at that very moment, but I’m sure you can guess!
Turns out, I was just going to be “screeched in!” Screeching In is a tradition in Newfoundland to make you an official Newfoundlander. It involves a pretty complicated process that I had to complete in front of a bar of tons of screaming, inebriated people.
The first step was to put on a fisherman’s outfit. Fishing is a major industry in Newfoundland, so I had to put on the gear from the boots all the way to the hat!
After adorning the yellow suit, I was then given a speech test. Newfoundlanders have a very particular accent. Although they’re Canadian, their speech tends to sound very Irish – there’s a back story to all of this I’m sure, but I never investigated. I was given a series of tongue teasers to complete in a typical Newfoundland accent.
Of course I aced it (not)! The entire bar got a GREAT kick out of it, and being a good sport, I didn’t mind being the butt of the joke. But the next step had me a bit scared. I was told I had to partake in a Newfoundland delicacy – and eat the whole thing. I am NOT an adventurous eater, so I was pretty terrified at this point. The emcee was such a pro at his job – he really ratcheted up the suspense of the whole process. The delicacy I had to eat? Newfoundland “steak” – which was really just a slice of bologna!
Now we’re down to getting my shot of “screech.” Remember, I had been warned for days that screech was hard enough to put hair on my chest. That it would burn like gasoline! That it would be worse than anything I’ve ever had in my life.
It went down smoother than a lot of liquors I’ve tried, including cognac. Maybe it was overhyped, or maybe they underestimated the experience most American journalists have with spirits. 😉 The story behind the name “screech” is that an American serviceman was visiting Newfoundland and took a shot of the rum – he then emitted a horrendous screeching noise because it burned so much.
And then we come to the last and final step. By then, I’m already feeling good, feeling great. I’ve completed all of the steps with ease and the bar is uproariously cheering for me. Bring it on! But then, they bring out the fish.
Now this part is important. I’m not a fan of fish. I’ve never had a pet fish, I don’t like seeing fish at the beach, and I don’t even EAT fish. So when they bring out a LARGE cod fish and tell me to kiss it, you can imagine what ran through my head.
- It’s dead! But gross.
- How many people before me kissed this thing??
- It’s wrapped in saran wrap but ew.
- OMG this thing is huge.
- How many people before me have kissed this thing??? Do they lysol it?
So what would you do? In a bar many hours (and flights) away from home, far from anyone and anything familiar? Of course I kissed the fish.
After the kiss, I recited an oath and I was all done! The bar erupted in praise and I was gifted with a lovely certificate that I kept on my desk for many years. So not only am I an American, but I’m also an honorary Newfoundlander. 🙂
This was a crazy night but it made for a good story! Being one of the few black people whom most of the town had seen in person also made for a few interesting stories.
What’s one of the craziest situations you’ve been in on your travels?
PS – As an honorary Newfoundlander, I have to tell you it’s pronounced N00-fund-land, not New-found-land. 🙂
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