Whilst being the noun for a collection of 16th century Germanic dances, is, with the addition of a question mark, a request from the locals as to our nationality. The assumption being that all pannier carrying cyclists are German. We’ve been asked so often, I begin to wonder if the question doesn’t have another meaning. A local colloquialism implying ‘overloaded cyclist with a sunburnt nose’.
Strangely, the same conversation in the southern United States, would end with the question as to whether Scotland was close to Germany. The great geopolitical conundrum: is an elephant close to a louse? On those occasions we would just agree, on these we offer some further clarifications, ’al norte de los Reinos Unitos; it’s easier than having a Spanish language discussion about a nationalist government’s single question plebiscite or renegotiating re-entry to an economical union.
‘Where are you from?’, as a conversational opener, is an improvement on the more conventional discourse about the weather. ’bit damp, but they say it’ll dry up later’. ¿De donde son? has led to a discussion about the differences between neighbours and the fiscal advantages of being an Uruguayan pensioner living in Brazil. The former also yielded our first ‘Tott’ encounter. Jesus lives on the road, moving from job to job by bike, living in a poly-sheeted dome tent. He confirms that it’s legal to roadside camp for a couple of days and that you’ll always get a free meal and a bed in an Uruguayan estancia, but that it’s a lot harder in Argentina. Our first ’tott’ of the trip, and it’s in a foreign tongue. Accommodation recommendations, it makes for a nice change from the usual dire warnings about the dangers of road cycling. But then cycling isn’t a deviant activity here, even our transfrontera pensioner has only recently upgraded from push-pedal to kick-start moto.
The comedian’s stereotypical portrait is of the towel draped, sun lounger thieving Fritz; my image of the Germanic traveller is closer to a motorised version, the Mercedes converted truck with a rack of jerry cans, the stash of sand ladders, the tiers of headlamps, and a world bragging map on the back. We, on the other hand will carry on being ‘Ally Manny-ing’ Scots cyclists, helping to bolster our version of a stereotype.
And just how close can an elephant get to a louse? Very. Especially when it stamps on it.