What travel teaches:
Looking out at rainy Vladivostok from a bus between the airport and centre, I saw something that --I must admit -- delighted me: a hair-dyed-rust middle-aged woman and a green trash can falling together on a wet sidewalk. What was priceless about it was her reaction: getting up, first she glared at the trash can lying next to her; then she picked it up in a rush, and hurried away, with loose debris she knocked free blowing in the wind. As the bus moved past her, I searched for her expression... there! Not a hint of pain, just shock and some offense that this little scene had taken place at all.
She fell. She got mad. She tried to rush off before anyone could see. Just what I expected.
It reminded me of another, greater, Russian fall when I was on the other side of Russia, in St Petersburg, on a study-abroad program years ago. On Nevski Prospect on a sunny day, another middle-aged woman fell, this time yelling in pain. I was startled.* She eventually got up (I watched) and walked away apparently unhurt. I remembered this little moment, with secret pleasure, long after. But it took years for me to realize that she had it all figured out in advance. The woman knew exactly how to fall properly.
RULES FOR FALLING DOWN
Those who suffer actual pain from falls are exempt from these rules. Fortunately, only about one in eight falls results in any short- or long-term injury.
1. DON'T LAUGH.
This medieval tactic of distancing yourself from your mishap fools NO ONE. Clumsy teens can be forgiven for good-natured chuckles at a self-fall. Adults cannot. Under no circumstances. You fell, yes. But it's not for you to laugh it. It's not funny TO YOU.
2. DON'T GET MAD.
Some say it's a human reaction (the fallen are victims after all), I say it's a lack of pre-planning. A fall can be inconvenient. You may try to pawn it off on a hamburger someone stupidly left in the street, but it's really your fault for tripping on it. Deal with it. Don't get mad at a sidewalk, a coffee table or a green trash can. They CAN'T HEAR CUSSING.
3. DON'T RUN AWAY.
Don't try to rush off like it didn't happen. It did. And people saw it. People will laugh for a long time to come. They will tell people about it. They will remember it, and refer to it often. Running away only adds to their pleasure, and to your 'wound.'
4. WHEN FALLING, YELL IN SHOCK or SURPRISE or FAUX PAIN.
We all know that a fall is a confrontation. The fallen [ie victim] confronts the pavement, while passerby [ie recipients of unexpected pleasure] confront a comic situation, like seeing a face-slap sketch. The pre-planned and aware faller can equalize the roles by yelling. As soon as an impending fall is realized, yell. Loudly. Wildly. Yell BEFORE you hit the ground. In great disproportionate fear, if possible. Yelling 'shocks' the passerby, causing them to 'fall' too. How can one so startled, or surprised, really savor a public fall, when they too are reacting with their own sudden event (a yell)? Try it out at the mall or tram stop.
Some have asked me whether or not it is OK to stop yourself from falling once you start. Of course! There is no insult in trying to protect yourself. But by all means try to follow rule number four. If you stop yourself, all the better -- you've yelled, gained some passerby-'fall' points, without losing any yourself.
See, the woman in St Petersburg knew this all along. And I thank her for teaching me. Last week in Magadan, stepping on wet stones across a small stream, I slipped and a foot slipped into the icy water. I yelled immediately. 'Oh!... Oh GOD!' But I saved myself from a full-body splash. Two Mag pals looked back quickly, clearly concerned. 'Are you OK?' I stepped out of the water. 'Yep,' I said quite pleased, 'I'm absolutely great,' water dripping out of my shoe. Two-zip**.
Clearly the woman in Vladivostok has a lot to learn.
Mobile/Semi-Permanent HQ -- Brooklyn, NY
* This is the key part of the anecdote. Please read on to see why.
** See Addendum I if you don't understand why.