Monday, March 7, 2011


This is not meant to be a back in my day post.

But when I had my year off in 1997 and travelled around the world, regular stops at English Bookshops were an essential part of the journey. 

With no iPhones/Pods/Pads/Readers (I had to post the film from my camera home to my parents for processing, and started the trip without so much as an email address, for goodness sake. I know!), we relied on the humble book to escape the tedium of long layovers, broken-down bus delays, or those annoying morning hours before the hostel doors open.

Almost every traveller we met carried a dog-eared copy of On The Road, 100 Years of Solitude, In Patagonia, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or bits and pieces by Tolkein, Steinbeck or Hemingway. And once you’d worked your way through those, there wasn’t much else available through the exchange networks of hostel common rooms and noticeboards. 

So, on arrival into any given town, maps were marked up with the locations of our intended lodging, the post office, bus/train stations, and the nearest bookshop.

The English bookshop experience in non-English speaking countries is a bit like panning for gold. It starts with a feverish search for the English corner (or shelf) followed, generally, by a glimmer of promise, then more often than not, disappointment.

But occasionally, you strike it rich.

In the El Sembrador bookshop in Santiago, Chile, I was quite taken by a fragile copy of a 1950 edition of You, Too, Can Be The Perfect Hostess by Maureen Daly – The leading expert on modern manners. I wasn’t looking for an educational text, but a few pesos later, Maureen & I were taking the first few tentative steps of our new life together.

Maureen accompanied me through Latin America, the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, and I still have her. She’s draped across my travel journals as I write.

Now, I’m rarely a host, let alone a hostess, so about the only time I leaf tenderly through Maureen’s fragile, flaking pages is when I’m a bit down. She never fails to put a smile on my face.

Here are 10 important lessons I’ve learnt from Maureen:
  1. A young career girl, with her first jellied-soup-and-chicken-salad party supper menu is making a big step toward maturity and an interesting life for herself.
  2. Don’t attempt a formal dinner party without a maid
  3. Don’t be an eager-beaver. If the group in the corner is carrying on a stimulating discussion or the twosome on the sofa is engaged in happy talk, don’t break them up to get a game of canasta going.
  4. Don’t bore your husband to tears with little details of planning before the party, or he’ll be fed up with the whole thing before it ever happens.
  5. Don’t interrupt your husband’s anecdotes with additions or corrections which are unimportant to the story.
  6. Men always like attention and flattery. And one of the most flattering forms of flattery is a surprise party.
  7. Career girls - One of the best ways to insure yourself against live-alone loneliness is to develop a flair for entertaining.
  8. St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish national holiday no longer reserved exclusively for the Irish. The day now belongs to anyone in the mood for a little celebrating.
  9. At some parties, fun just makes itself, with music, good food and good conversation to set the mood. At others, “planned fun” is needed to make the occasion a success.
  10. Don’t measure the success of your party only by the number of people who get giddy on your drinks.
Now, I don’t always agree with her. I do, for example, believe that you can judge the success of a St Paddy’s day party by the number of giddy guests. And I don’t know too many career girls who’d be overly thrilled whipping up jellied soup.

You learn a lot about yourself, people and places when you travel. But Maureen taught me about another time. A time of formal manners and quirky courtesies that’s slowly fading from memory.

The real Maureen would have been mortified by many of the things we did, and places we stayed on our journey together. I suspect she would have been a challenge to travel with. But, as a pocket companion, she was an absolute delight to have along for the ride.


  1. How funny! I don't think I could live in the days of Maureen's manners, especially the "no interrupting the man" rules. It's pretty remarkable to think how different travel is now with all of these technologies.

  2. I think travellers are forgetting the joy of the book. So many people argue you shouldn't even take a book but I will always remember that I read Love in the Time of Cholera in Borneo and The Life of Pi in Uganda. I'm leaving in two weeks and I know what my pack will be full of.

  3. Thanks, Sammy...appreciate your comment. A lot of benefits to books:

    > Doesn't really matter if they get wet
    > They smell nice
    > You bump into them (like old friends) all over the place.

    I love your style.

    Happy travels,