I’ve been thinking a lot about the various myths and urban legends we all unwittingly help to propagate. It’s not our fault, the ‘facts’ sound true and so we share them, wanting to educate and maybe even impress a little. There are many travel related fictions out there and so I decided to share a few with you in the hopes that these legends will die a quick death.
Eskimos have 100 words for snow – I personally always believed this was true until an Arctic exploration expert recently put me in my place. As it turns out this well known ‘fact’ is merely an example of urban legend that has self-inflated over the years. The Inuit peoples have a language structure in which root words are combined with suffixes, so in theory just about every base concept has a limitless number of derivations. This is how the legend started early in the 20th century and it grew out of control as time wore on. Modern day linguists and sociologists believe that there are about 12 distinct terms in the Inuit language for snow, although agreeing on common definitions for words and phrases is what created the problem in the first place so even this number is open to debate. What is certain though is that there definitely are not 100 different words for snow in the Inuit language.
Turning on electronics below 10,000 feet will cause the plane to crash – No, no, no. The FAA has long studied the effects of electronics on plane avionics and while some interference happens sometimes, it’s never been enough to warrant an all out prohibition. If this were truly a concern then they would firmly and forcefully ban all electronics. The problem is the timing of the interference and since take off and landing are the two most important times during a flight, electronics have been banned during these times. The FAA has decided to revisit this rule though and is expected to make a decision on continued promulgation in March 2013. Turning on your electronics before the plane reaches 10,000 feet may place you in violation of airline rules and will probably get you in trouble, but it won’t cause the plane to crash. (This was edited since initial publication)
Ice cubes on airplanes contain formaldehyde – I was told this by a colleague in the travel industry a couple of years ago and it struck me as incredibly odd. I’m not Snopes, but I did try to track down the veracity of this and as far as I can tell it’s not true. What is true is that there has been concern over the years about the safety of potable water on board planes. The EPA has tested so-called drinkable water and found that a shockingly high number of flights do not meet their standards and may even contain traces of contaminants such as E. coli. Since a third-party vendor brings in most ice on flights, it would seem then that they are safe. What is important to be aware of is when the ice is produced on board using the water on the plane and other beverages such as coffee or tea that may use this questionable water. When in doubt, go for the drinks that are in their own serving containers and that don’t utilize water from the aircraft.
You can see the Great Wall of China from space – This myth arose long before we had the means to test its truth, and even since repeatedly disproving this ‘fact’ it just doesn’t seem to die. Specifically, the claim is that the Great Wall is the only man-made object that can be seen from the moon. False. In fact no man-made objects can be seen from the moon, rather only oceans and continents can be seen. If one takes the meaning of space to be defined as a low-earth orbit, NASA has also disproved this ‘fact’. Due to the unique color of the wall, it tends to blend in with its surroundings so while other man-made objects can be seen from a low orbit, oddly enough the Great Wall cannot.
Recirculated cabin air on planes will make you sick – If this were truly the case then we’d have a sickly legion of pilots and flight attendants flying the friendly skies. Studies have shown that recirculating air in plane cabins does not in fact make people sick. However, it is true that air travelers do tend to get sick more often than other people. The reason for this is ultimately the dry air and constant contact with germs throughout the flying experience. That’s why it’s a good idea to wash your hands often, keep hydrated, avoid alcohol and stay in relatively good physical shape.
What are some of your favorite travel myths?