Saturday, September 23, 2006

Cluj Napoca/Sighişoara.

Probabilities, II.

Travelled today to Sighişoara. Took all day (it was supposed to be a day-trip, but the train comes into Cluj at 2 p.m. and arrives in Sighişoara at 5 p.m., making a day trip impossible. There is an earlier train, of course, but it leaves at 5 a.m., while the midday train at 12:00 p.m. arrives already at 3 p.m. There's nothing in-between the 5 a.m. and the 12:00 p.m. trains, trip not practically possible. The bus schedules are even worse).

So, not much to report today, except that I expect to have something like 7 years of good luck following an encounter with an Icelandic guy in the Youth Hostel!

Why is that, you say?

Well, consider, that the population of Iceland is only about 300,000. The probabilities of you meeting someone that comes from this country at random are....well, you figure it out, it is pretty easy to calculate: assuming meeting any given person of the 6 billion people on the planet is equally likely, the probability that the next person you meet is Icelandic is less than 0.005 percent. Yes, that is, a 5x10-5 chance!

Now, of course, we all know that that probability is way less if, say, for instance, you live in the countryside of, say, Senegal and you never travel, or if you work at an oil rig off the Gulf of Mexico which requires you to be on the platform for most months of the year, for instance, and conversely, it is much higher, of course, if you work at Heathrow Airport at the terminal where all the connecting flights from Icelandair arrive, or at the French embassy in Reijkiavik, for instance.

In fact, I once even spotted (but did not meet) 10 Icelanders, standing in line precisely at Heathrow (I knew because their passports looked a little unusual), once, and felt rather fortunate then, but tonight...TONIGHT! I had a veritable, real Icelander from Reijkiavik sitting accross the table from me and who was, no less, chatting with me good-naturedly.

Can you believe it?

When I explained it to him that these kinds of things do not happen every day, and asked for permission to rub his (very blond!) hair for good luck, he assented with a chuckle and a broad smile.

"Yeah, that's true!" he said, "there are so few of us."

"In fact," he continued, "you know how each country has these protocols, for how you politely get acquainted, or small talk, or whatever?"

"You mean like chatting about the weather, first?" said an Irishman sitting nearby.

"Yes," said our Icelander friend. "You know how it is in Iceland?"

"Tell us!" said I, fascinated.

"In Iceland, the first thing you do when getting acquainted with someone new, is to try to see how you two are related."

"Oh?" said the funny Irishman. "You mean like playing 6 degrees of Björk, kind of thing?"

"Yes! Exactly!" said he. "In Iceland, since there are so few people, everyone is pretty much related. So when you meet someone, you first start asking each other where they're from, and who they went to school with, and before long it will turn out that one of you will know one of the other's friends (or relatives), and so now suddenly you have friends in common, and you're not strangers anymore."

Cool, huh?

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