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To spit or not on the streets of Dhakar

Walking alongside a dual carriageway is not a great deal of fun, particularly on a Friday in Dhaka. Half an hour of futile pacing convinced me of this and the mood was bleakening somewhat (sorry, I know it’s not a proper word) when an instantly recognisable sound emerged from behind. There is something entirely unambiguous about the gathering of phlegm, the most repulsive of all human habits that in one split second relegates our species to the lowest level of the animal kingdom. I turned and saw the man with the puffed-out cheeks, rolling the contents of his mouth as one might savour a vintage wine and wobbling his head in anticipation of the impending despatch. Just a question now of finalising the unloading strategy and from what I would later observe, he had three options from which to select:

Think about taking a free kick on the edge of the penalty box. You can float the ball up and over the top of “the wall” applying just the right pace and trajectory to make it land perfectly in the bottom corner of the net. Or you can blast it, hard and low, a torpedo, Stuart Pearce style. In the world of expectoration the former tends to pose the bigger threat in that a bolus upwardly projected from a shop doorway can easily, given unfortunate timing, make an unwelcome appearance on the face or clothing of an innocent passer-by. We’ll call these options 1 and 2.

To my slight relief the man that I found myself snarling at had actually gone for number 3: The Stroke-Victim’s Drool. Perhaps the most pathetic technique of all, the slight stoop forward, the downward tilt of the head, the slow, stringy, vertical drip that eventually forms a sticky puddle just in front of the right toe.

So where do you stand on public throat-clearing? Do you respect the culture and habits of a foreign land and take it entirely in your stride? Literally. Is it right to malign people for acting in a way that to them is perfectly normal everyday behaviour?

Tricky. I have thought long and hard about this and would like to put forward for your consideration what I see as a reasonable compromise: any person caught gobbing in the street, anywhere in the world, should be picked up by the ankles, lobbed into a truck, offered a meal of their choosing, two telephone calls to relatives and then, as the sun goes down, lowered slowly into a pit of pre-menstrual crocodiles. On second thoughts, forget the meal.

Extract taken from Ten Letter Countries.
9781780880754, £10.00, published 10th April 2012

The Ten-Letter Countries is an insight into the history, geography and politics of twelve fascinating countries through the eyes of The Alphabet Traveller. Each country David visited had 10 letters to its name. It follows on from his earlier adventure, The Four Letter Countries

Both books can be ordered from or

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