Mind Over Miller: People say the darndest things

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Aug 01, 2005



When I was in college, I spent summer vacations taking tourists on horse pack trips in the Rocky Mountains. During that time, I was asked some incredibly stupid questions. So when I travel, I like to ask tour guides what the dumbest questions they've ever been asked are. The usual response is "You wouldn't believe me!" I always tell them, "Oh, yes, I would."

I recently took a tour of the Big Island of Hawaii that included lecturing at a veterinary symposium and visiting several huge cattle ranches. So here, thanks to my tour guides, is a collection of stupid questions asked by tourists in Hawaii:

  • After a round-the-island tour: "Is this island completely surrounded by water?"
  • Viewing three islands from a high point: "Which of these is in the Pacific Ocean?"
  • Standing on the beach: "What is the altitude here?" [This is a common question.]
  • Getting on a bus: "Can I use American money?"
  • Taking a guided tour of a cattle ranch:

"Is the manure real?"

"What do you do with so many cows?"

"Why are ranches so large?"

"What do you feed the cows?"

Answer: "Grass."

Response: "Grass? How can they live on grass?"

  • When told that they will see native dances: "Are the natives dangerous?"
  • At a volcanic crater: "How long did it take to dig the crater?"
  • Looking at the island of Molokai from the island of Maui, a few miles away: "Is that Japan over there?"
  • Or worse, again on Maui, looking at Molokai to the west: "Is that California?"

A lot of these questions compel me to believe that geography is simply not being taught in school any longer. A survey a few years ago of Texas high school seniors included the question "What country is south of Texas?" Half the students didn't know the answer.

On a veterinary tour of Kenya a few years ago, a 13-year-old barefoot Masai village boy asked a practitioner in our tour group where he was from.

"Washington," he answered.

"Ah," the boy said, "where President Bush lives."

"No," my colleague explained, "that's Washington, D.C. I'm from the state of Washington. Do you know where that is?"

"Yes," the native youth replied. "Between Oregon and the Canadian border."

This child spoke three languages: English, Swahili, and Masai, and his knowledge of geography surpassed that of most Americans his age. He was probably better in math, too.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his Web site at http://www.robertmmiller.com/.