Karl back again just long enough to pass on some divergent cross cultural views that I’ve experienced as a result of this swine flu news story, as well as one of the funniest spontaneous comments that I’ve heard in quite some time.
Just wrapped up a visit from one of my Singaporean customers last week, and the original plan was to take the group into NYC for a day before their departure to do a little sight seeing and to catch a show. By mid week plans were all in the air again as a result of this new flu strain. Because of their recent experience with SARS and the like, Asians as a group are extremely sensitive to any perceived threat of a global outbreak. The sensationalist news outlets with apparently nothing better to talk about are not helping matters. We almost had to cancel our plans because they didn’t want to spend too much time in the city for fear of being infected. Also one member of the party who was stopping for a brief holiday in Tokyo on the way home was informed that any passengers arriving from New York may be subject to quarantine upon arrival in Japan.
Being a math guy, I’m big on playing the odds, and couldn’t help but explain to them that with approximately 200 cases identified in the US and approximately 300 million citizens, this means that just under 0.00007% of the US population is actually affected. I’m no medical expert, but I’m pretty sure that this affliction rate is only slightly greater than that of being born with a 3rd ear in the middle of one’s forehead. Strangely, this didn't seem to make anyone feel better ;)
We all decided to go ahead with our plans, but just to calm them down a bit I did supply them with N95 masks and antiseptic wipes for the trip home. While waiting on our flight from Rochester to New York I excused myself momentarily to go to the bathroom. Upon my return to the gate I found one of the guys checking his temperature with a thermometer he had apparently bought the night before! Just making sure, I guess. And of course, at the end of our weekend in the city when we were saying our final goodbyes, I breathed in a small dust particle while shaking their hands at the security gate. I have never fought so hard to contain a sneeze as I did at that moment. These guys were really taking this seriously.
Contrast that with one of the guys in my office who had a quick sneezing fit at his desk. It was loud and drawn out enough that from across the room I heard someone ask him “What in the heck is going on over there?”
The reply was much funnier in his distinctly Greek New York accent than I can convey here. “I know. I keep waiting for the next sneeze to come out sounding like an oink!”