Occupational Hazard

“Did you become a flight attendant because you like to travel?” Miki asks me as we are doing a fast run through in the galley. The drinks cart will be very important on this flight. In my experience, Russian passengers are notoriously big drinkers and this is a vacation flight.

“Yeah, 15 countries before I graduated high school.”

“Wow.” Miki looks at me and then stares blankly at the bottles of vodka we will be serving.


“Oh my god, it’s in Russian.” I am not going to correct her about it being Cyrillic. I like Miki. I still cannot believe she never travelled out of Japan or even flew until she joined the airline. “How are we supposed to alphabetize the bottles?” She looks like she is about to blow a gasket before take off.

“Annika and Sophia will do that. Until then, just color code by caps. You know, Mr. ROY G BIV.”

“Who’s that? Your neighbor in Tokyo?”

It’s the colors of light in a rainbow. Let the Russian speakers deal with the bottles.

“Did you learn that at the Louvre?” Bottles start clanking.

“No, from my classmate from Manila when I was in high school on Guam.”

“Oh.” She sounds disappointed. I am not. It is a lifelong trivia treasure.

The rest of preflight runs pretty smoothly. Our passengers are happy and in good moods. They want to get the plane up and to their tropical destination as soon as possible. The one older passenger offers to help us close the door.

Sitting in the access way on our crew benches, I look down the aisle and smile. There is a little girl with a teddy bear. She is speaking Russian, but maybe her family comes from central Asia: Kazakhstan; Turkmenistan?

I start serving drinks after take off and I get the usual questions.

“Are you German?” Yes, on my mother’s side.

“Where do you live?” In Tokyo.

“In Tokyo?” Yes.

“Where is your family?” In Alaska.

“Alaska! It used to be Russian.” Yes, many people still have Russian names.

I smile and keep working my way down the aisle, patiently answering questions. It’s an occupational hazard. Such disbelief! Guam to Alaska? Yup, via Tokyo—that’s my life.

By the end of the flight I have served each passenger well and I have given out answers to: when someone should visit Tokyo; can the shinkansen travel to Kyoto; what makes the best souvenirs from Japan; can I recommend a place to go drinking in Shinjuku? I suppose with the experience I have I could be in consulting. If not for the airline industry, creating niche travel itineraries for locals who want to live like a TCK looks like a viable Plan B.

Miki looks at me. “I’m taking notes.”