Fear of Time Travel

The blog entry I had been thinking about and repeatedly forgetting about came back to me. Turns out those story beginnings never went far because I had been thinking about situations where I probably wouldn’t survive for long. I’ve had this scary scenario playing in my head, while awake, for quite some time.

First, imagine that you’re dropped into a foreign city with only the clothes you wear. No wallet, no hand bag, no money, no cell phone, no identification. Pretty scary, huh? But still, most of us would get out of the situation fairly easily. We would find the embassy of our country of origin, or if it were in another city, contact the local police and ask to use their phone. A few days later we would be home.

That’s not the scary scenario I rehearse. Imagine that you’re dropped into the city you live in with only the clothes you wear. No wallet, no hand bag, no money, no cell phone, no identification. And it’s 500 years ago. (Or for you colonial types, 300 years ago in one of your country’s first cities.)

How do you survive?

You don’t know anybody and nobody has any loyalty to you. You’re wearing extremely strange clothes. You speak the local language but with a really strange accent and a completely outlandish vocabulary: many of the words you know have completely different meanings. You’ll have a very hard time just explaining where you’re from, which the authorities will no doubt ask. You know little to nothing of how society works, things like what polite manners are and even how to count the denominations of the local coinage if somehow you get hold of money. You’re in a violent, patriarchal, disease-ridden place with no concept of the dignity or equal value of all humans.

Some might think that a well educated modern Westerner would soon become one of the sages of the age thanks to their superior technological and scientific knowledge. For one thing, it wouldn’t be hard for most of us to become the best doctor in the world of AD 1509 if knowledge was all it took. But I have a feeling that such knowledge would not be easily applied in a society that is completely unprepared for it, and not easily implemented in an environment where none of today’s infrastructure exists. And say that you’re actually a doctor or an engineer – how much could you achieve without access to any materials or tools invented in the past 500 years? I mean, I know the principles of nuclear fusion, aviation, antibiotics, vaccination and basic biochemistry, but don’t ask me to put them into practice starting from scratch!

I’m pessimistic. I have a feeling that I’d end up dead, plague-struck, imprisoned or a manual labourer pretty soon. (If I were a woman I’d reckon the first sexual assault would come within hours.) And the funny thing is that somehow I actually worry about this time-slip scenario. It’s akin to the low-level anxiety it causes me in the real world to be living off stipends and not having much of a steady income. But actually, somewhere deep down I’m more afraid of being time-machined barehanded into the Stockholm of Svante Nilsson’s stewardship.

Update 7 January: Turns out a book of survival tips for time travellers to 14th century England was published little more than a year ago: Ian Mortimer’s The Time-traveller’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. I haven’t read it, but send me a copy and I’ll review it.

Update 28 January: This post inspired additional takes on the theme from the perspective of a cancer surgeon and a chess player.

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Comments

  1. #1 Bruno
    December 28, 2009

    Pessimistic indeed. Just look to refugees from the Eastern Bloc. There are doctors, engineers, .. in them and they do house cleaning or maybe a bit of plumbing here.
    No time travel, but I guess it’s the same logic…

  2. #2 Martin R
    December 28, 2009

    It’s not the same thing. They move to societies that are much less brutal than 16th century Sweden, they move in groups, and they move to areas where both the authorities and previous migrants are ready to help them establish themselves. (And still by and large they do end up as manual labourers.)

  3. #3 Orac
    December 28, 2009

    The reason they end up as manual laborers is quite simple. Most Western societies won’t license them to practice medicine without their having either passed a rigorous test and/or undergone additional residency training. In the U.S., foreign medical grads generally have to pass a test, and many of them have to repeat their residency training, depending upon the nation that they come from. They also have to demonstrate proficiency in English.

    The doctors moving out of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc often find that they have to make a living somehow; they don’t have the time or the resources to study for many months or longer in order to pass a test, and they either can’t get accepted to residency programs or for whatever reason can’t do them. Some might even need to go to medical school again. So they do whatever they can to make a living, including driving cabs or becoming manual laborers.

    During the course of my residency, I’ve met surgeons from Third World countries who were attending surgeons in their home country but had to repeat a general surgery residency if they ever wanted to practice here in the U.S. So they do it, even in their 40s and 50s. I don’t know how. At my current age, I don’t know if I could survive residency again, even with the 80 hour work week, much less the old, brutal 100+ hour work weeks that I endured 14 years ago.

  4. #4 Martin R
    December 28, 2009

    the 80 hour work week, much less the old, brutal 100+ hour work weeks

    How bizarre. Sure, the hospital saves money that way, but quality must go way, way down. A surgeon operating at the end of an 80-hour work week is a malpractice suit waiting to happen. Luckily we don’t have that in Sweden.

  5. #5 george.w
    December 28, 2009

    We used to have a Vietnamese restaurant here in town that was owned by an architectural engineer. For whatever reason he couldn’t practice here in the US even though I often saw local architects consulting with him, drawings on the table.

    In an Italian restaurant here in town hangs a painting of a Renaissance plaza that has always made me think of the scenario you describe. Clearly an advanced civilization but I’d be screwed if you dropped me there. What would I do, walk up to the nearest person and say in 20th century English; “I am a computer support technician?”

  6. #6 Akhôrahil
    December 28, 2009

    Have you read a short story by Poul Anderson titled “The Man Who Came Early”? It describes just this phonomenon, when anAmerican soldier based at Keflavik airbase is sent back in time to medieval Iceland, with the expected tragic consequences.

    People imagine that knowledge and skill would get them by in situations where they lacked even the remotest hint of social competence and a social structure. I completely agree with you that this notion is naive.

    I’m also pretty sure most of us would be shocked at the culture of violence we encountered in the Middle Ages. It’d be like an anthropoligist studying the Yanomamo. I’ve seen it claimed that medieval Stockholm had around the same number of murders (in absolute terms) as modern Stockholm, with a miniscule fraction of the population.

  7. #7 ENT-TT
    December 28, 2009

    Pffft. Nothing to worry about… For long.
    You’d be publicly executed for witchcraft within the hour.
    You might manage enough restraint to be disguised as a slow mute, collecting resources, supplicating yourself, and hiding out for as long as it takes to make some decent friends, weaponry, and protective gear. But if you went about as a healer, or an engineer, or an advisor, or a futuree, you’d die very quickly. Humans are some of the most inherently xenophobic animals I’ve ever met. I think some really large herbivores may be worse (rhinos and hippos, for example), but they’re about the only competition when it comes to territorial paranoia. On the bright side, temporal displacement doesn’t happen all that often, and even if it will have become your personal fate, from today’s standpoint you’ll already have been dead for quite some time. Not much you can do about the past before it happens. I suggest carrying some antibiotics, vitamins, plant seeds, Swedish Fire Steel, and a multi-tool about your person for the remainder of your foreseeable “future”, just in case. Even if you don’t wind up in the causal past, an accidental detour to the Republic of Moldova might be weathered more readily with those supplies on-hand.

  8. #8 Martin R
    December 28, 2009

    George, that’s a really cool painting!

    Akhorahil, I haven’t read that, I’ll try to find it!

    ENT-TT, I gotta but that Leatherman multi-tool right away!

  9. #9 Hypatia
    December 28, 2009

    I don’t know if you ever read fiction, but there is a book by Connie Willis called “Doomsday Book” that explores this anxiety beautifully. I highly recommend it.

  10. #10 Martin R
    December 28, 2009

    I do read (and occasionally review) fiction. I enjoyed Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog!

  11. #11 Mikael
    December 28, 2009

    Martin, this is a bit uncanny. I just finished Philip K Dick’s “Dr Futurity” yesterday (well, actually I both started and finished it). Its plot has a substantial overlap with your scenario above. Including the part about being the world’s best doctor (although this is actually in the future, after civilization has taken a decidedly different turn).

  12. #12 DesertHedgehog
    December 28, 2009

    The classic sci-fi on the topic is H. Beam Piper’s “Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen”— c. 1963 American (cop with university History BA) is zapped to world with roughly 16th-c. technology, but gunpowder manufacture is controlled by a particular church). I carried the formula for gunpowder and instructions on mounting 16th-c. artillery in my wallet for years…

    Leatherman multi-tool or Gerber? Apparently there’s a whole debate over which to use, and the two sides take a rigidly defensive posture over which is The Best.

  13. #13 Akhôrahil
    December 28, 2009

    Martin, I believe the Anderson short story was published early in the (first) run of the Swedish ‘Nova’ SF magazine.

  14. #14 Martin R
    December 28, 2009

    “Leatherman” has the indisputable advantage over “Gerber” of sounding really gay and kinky.

    Akhorahil, the story’s also in Anderson’s collection Horn of Time which may be had for $2 plus p&p from Amazon.

  15. #15 ENT-TT
    December 28, 2009

    There is also Eric Flint’s “1632”, in which a small coal-mining community is accidentally transposed with a section of central Germany during the 30-years War. They even ally themselves with king Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in their fight against the French and Germanic warlords. I enjoyed it.

  16. #16 Larry Ayers
    December 28, 2009

    Interesting thought-experiment, Martin! I’m pessimistic too; for a more rosy 19th century view there is Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee.

  17. #17 Doug K
    December 28, 2009

    there’s a t-shirt for this.. just get a dozen of them and wear at all times. Hah.

    I was also going to mention the Connecticut Yankee, though I wouldn’t have thought of Twain as an optimist.

    A pessimist is just someone who sees the world as it is..

  18. #18 dveej
    December 28, 2009

    This very subject is treated at length in “A Scientific Romance” by Ronald Wright – an excellent science fiction work which takes as its premise the re-use of the time machine from H.G. Wells’ book. It’s a great read, but I don’t know if it will cure your obsession…

  19. #19 T.Axelson
    December 28, 2009

    Interesting. Indeed not many of my skills would be useful. I think my strategy would be to get rid of my cloths, accepting I am no one from nowhere, waking up from a ridiculous and foolish dream of a “future” the paradise, a land of milk and honey but without faith. A mare-dream or a sweet – I do not really know. Better than anybody could dream but where no one tells the meaning.

    So I have to accept I am surely a victim of a disastrous poison and evil people or worse. And I have obviously lost my skills and knowledge, but seems to have been extremely well situated and rich according to the status of my body…

    I do not read or speak Latin, so I am not an educated person. I do not understand the low-German so I am not a merchant. I do understand a lot of the strange dialect of the inhabitants in the town, but I can not speak as them.

    So who am I and what to do: My only chance may be to ask for hospitality at the Franciscan convent. I will not speak my “Swedish” to anybody, but just English (and hope none of the brothers are from England – I do trust that language is odd enough, to make them understand I am a total foreigner). Because I need a language I am able to talk, as a foreigner, when playing the sick and confused foreigner I really am. I would try to learn how they do the cross sign, and learn to mumble Pater noster and Ave Maria, and especially how to show humbleness and gratefulness. I am in their hands, totally. A needy.

    If that would work, I would try to listen carefully and learn the contemporary Swedish as a foreigner use to. For some time – if I would survive – I may be useful for some simple things. Not much of my knowlage would be useful. I know some about woodwork with handtools – maybe useful. And some mathematics, but as I do not know Latin, and without the skill of using a pen without doing blots and not even who to wright readable letters, it is probably better not to tell about that. As a theologian in my “old future dream life” it may be a hard thing to keep teeth for tongue. It would not be good if they knew I know about theology but not the Vulgata nore the Greek nor Church Slavic Bible. I have not read Bonaventura, and it may also be good in order to avoid the temptation of disputing. If my place would be among the sick, knowledge of bacteria may be of some use, but I would not be able to communicate the reason for some of my strange behavior. Anyway I would probably very soon die, probably in smallpox or some fever, as my resistance toward such diseases not common in my 20’th century childhood, would be too low. On the other hand as I am soon 44, I am already a rather old man, so why should I expect too many more years on this sad earth? Arriving 1509, I would probably not have to see the fatal cultural decline during the King Gustaf 1520 and onwards.

    (Falling down in 1609 or 1709 would probably have been worse, I am afraid.)

    An interesting thought anyway!

  20. #20 Martin R
    December 28, 2009

    Axelson, pretending to be a nude 16th century Englishman is a good idea! And seeking refuge with the Franciscans too. But it seems that you agree that any such time traveller would be severely handicapped in relation to the age.

  21. #21 Matt B
    December 28, 2009

    Ryan North (The guy behind the excellent Dinosaur Comics) has worried about the same thing. Perhaps you should buy his shirt and wear it. Just in case:

    http://www.topatoco.com/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=TO&Product_Code=QW-CHEATSHEET&Category_Code=QW

  22. #22 Matt B
    December 28, 2009

    Darn, Doug beat me to it…

  23. #23 Abdul Alhazred
    December 28, 2009

    300 years ago for us colonial types is good.

    1709 in Chicago. A foreigner in funny clothes. We assume I’m not wearing finery, just work clothes.

    If I avoid getting killed by the natives, maybe I can found Chicago a little early. :)

  24. #24 JSB
    December 28, 2009

    Seattle wasn’t settled by white folks until 1851. So no worries about being burned as a witch. It seems likely that the natives would have been mostly friendly, since they would not have experienced our land-grabbing, treaty-breaking ways yet. And being female, I would be less likely to be viewed as a threat (assuming I brought no outbreak of disease with me). So I probably would have been able to survive.

    I’m a bit surprised that no one has mentioned Leo Frankowski’s “Crosstime Engineer” series. The author was rather sexist, so you probably would not enjoy the series. It’s very much a conservative male fantasy. But it might make you feel better about being transported to the Medieval period.

  25. #25 Mike Olson
    December 28, 2009

    Holy cats, I’m 47 years old. I’m way past the average life expectancy, have a couple of surgical scars but show no comparative signs of living to such an advanced age under such brutal conditions. My hands are soft, I’m not particularly weathtered looking, I’ve got all my teeth and they are clean. My appearance, mute or otherwise would probably get me killed for practicing witchcraft, my pocket knife and leatherman might be handy, but my tools are made using tools and metallurgy they don’t even possess. Let alone my tennis shoes, etc. The Scandanavians in Anderson’s story were pretty stoic and pragmatic, but I’d have to go with the xenophobic aspect of humanity. All it would take is someone wanting you to make them a knife or pair of shoes like yours or demanding yours and you’d find yourself in real trouble, especially if you tried to refuse. I’d also suggest watching the movie, “District 9,” for a different take on this sort of “fish out of water” story. The prawns are much more advanced than the terrans technologically, and “Christopher” is a far more ethical creature than his fellow prawns or the terrans…but for all of that both species are very much alike…but the more technically advanced are essentially shipwrecked.

  26. #26 Fräulein Rottenmeier
    December 28, 2009

    The painting georgew. refers to (# 5) is Piazza San Marco – Looking South East by Canaletto, showing, of course, the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) in Venice, Italy. It was painted between 1735 and 1740.

  27. #27 Chris
    December 28, 2009

    A couple of comments from a medieval history scholar: first, while I don’t mean to downplay the health hazards, it’s common to mistake the *average* life expectancy in previous centuries for the *expected* life expectancy. The average in the Middle Ages & Renaissance is heavily skewed by the very large percentage of children who die. In most of this era, once you have made it to maturity you can reasonably expect to live into your 60s (70s if you’re lucky) if you don’t fall victim to some epidemic disease or disaster. People did not biologically age (gray hair, wrinkles etc.) any faster then than we do now.

    Second, the fad for persecuting witches (and if convicted they were hanged, not burned) is actually a phenomenon pretty much confined to the 16th and 17th centuries, and it definitely behaved like a fad: very spotty in distribution both in time and place. Your chances of encountering it would be fairly small. It was not a universal practice. Persecution of heretics was also extremely spotty, and the number who were actually burned was far smaller than most people realize (of course, even one death from injustice is too many, but common ideas about how many heretics were burned are off by at least a factor of 10). So someone with strange beliefs would still stand a good chance of being able to live unmolested if they behaved like a good citizen/subject otherwise.

  28. #28 Thomas
    December 28, 2009

    While your strange clothes are a risk they are also an opportunity. You might claim to be a minor nobleman from some faraway land who was stranded when your servants took off with your luggage and money. Given your strange clothes, soft hands and strange dialect you have a chance of being believed. (In my case being 1.92 tall would also help to stand out. In fact, it would be almost impossible to try to blend in) Hope to find some rich nobleman who might take pity on you for the novelty value if nothing else. Even if you lack many basic survival skills you also know some stuff that might come in handy. Teaching someone some basic statistics so he can win in gambling for example. (winning too much yourself is risky as you may be accused of cheating or witchcraft) I’d stay away from medicine, far too easy to run into prejudice or getting blamed when a patient died of your strange and probably unchristian methods.

    You do need luck in finding a decent mecenate, but compared to the alternatives that’s a risk worth taking IMHO.

  29. #29 Katherine
    December 28, 2009

    Chris: and if they were male.

    Auckland, New Zealand: do I do it for when the Maoris first got here, once the British started settling the South Island or once they settled Auckland? Don’t think I’d get far with the Maoris as I’m white as. Could probably pull off a “I got kidnapped by savages but I am totally classy enough to marry a rich white man” if the British were around in the South Island. Hooray for pregnancy! :(

    If once they got to Auckland I would have to try my best to disguise myself as a man* and then continue to work on Auckland’s water supply like I do now :D

    *probably very difficult. At least I’ll get the vote before I die if this fails and if I don’t die in childbirth.

  30. #30 Art
    December 28, 2009

    My first thought would be to beg, borrow or steal sack cloth and stuff my clothing and shoes in a sack. Making a crude loincloth I then roll around in the mud a bit. Then using more sack cloth I cover myself, head and all, and adopt to roll of a leper. With a little luck nobody messes with you because they fear the disease. This might give you enough time and anonymity to study the culture and avoid any fatal mistakes.

    I would expect to get sick. Most people of the time were immune to giardia and many other issues that your going to have to suffer through as your body adapts.

    If there is a Jewish community I might lean on them. Circumcised I would be able to make a claim to belonging. Even if you claim to be from ‘far away’. Their much cleaner, by standards of the time, food handling would fit the modern gut a bit easier.

    The one bit of knowledge that might help you would be mathematics. You might hire yourself out to a money changer. I’m not sure of when the transition from Roman to Arabic numeric systems was but if they were still using Roman numerals it would be simple to translate, make the computation, and translate back to Roman numerals.

    Multiplication and division with Roman numerals is pretty difficult and was commonly done, as I understand it, by repeated estimation. You would have to go very slow, it wouldn’t do to show up the masters, and fake a few simple mistakes, in part to avoid claims of using a demonic aid, but you might be able to finesse the skill to make you valuable while avoiding seeming too good.

    Of course getting your foot in the door is the trick. Without family name, reputation or affiliations your unlikely to get a chance.

  31. #31 Nullsession
    December 28, 2009

    It seems most logical that you’d be seen as a foreigner, and have a short life. People wouldn’t believe you. Life would be hard. If you returned with any advanced tech, they’d probably burn you as a witch. ;)

    I think it would take you quite some time to establish yourself, and get to where you have a decent life, unless you were lucky and befriended by someone of nobility early on.

    I’ve always wondered, if you could travel in time, would your spatial position change? I mean, the Earth has moved quite a lot along its path around the galaxy in that period of time. Would it be there, underfoot, when you appeared?

  32. #32 Art
    December 28, 2009

    Nullsession – “I’ve always wondered, if you could travel in time, would your spatial position change?”

    The SF convention is that you appear in the same relative position on earth but at a different time.

    Then again 500 years the solar system has shifted a bit as it travels around the galactic center. And our galaxy would have shifted a bit. It would be cruel irony if you carefully planned your time travel and ended up as a very well equipped time traveler … floating in space without benefit of spacesuit or capsule. D’oh!

  33. #33 Dave
    December 28, 2009

    how about Black,Brown,Female,Gay or maybe just “hip” in the USA–say 1950??..in 1610-1710 you could get away with being from??–Italy,Russia?..in 1950,with your 2010 personality in the US you would be dead..

  34. #34 MikeN
    December 29, 2009

    There was an old science fiction story from the early 60s- by Kornbluth?- based precisely on that. The Time Police would punish people who discovered their existence by dropping them into the past or future.

    The protagonist makes all those rosy assumptions about his superior knowledge, but the TP point out the downside.

    As for whole communities being displaced, that’s so commom in alternate history circles that it’s got its own abbreviation: ISOT (Island in the Sea of Time)

  35. #35 Martin R
    December 29, 2009

    Quoth Nullsession: if you could travel in time, would your spatial position change? I mean, the Earth has moved quite a lot along its path around the galaxy in that period of time. Would it be there, underfoot, when you appeared?

    Actually, it’s even worse. There is no independent spatial frame of reference if you remove causality. As Art says, the idea that you would end up on Earth is just an sf convention. Given tectonic drift, it wouldn’t even be theoretically possible to end up in the “same” spot on the planet. It’s one of the major arguments against the feasibility of time travel.

  36. #36 Mattias Niord
    December 29, 2009

    You clearly have gone over the deep end, Martin! Always carry a pocket knife and/or a multitool. Knife would be better tough, had it not been for the stupid laws of this country.
    But don´t blame me! We northswedes carried them openly until you Stockholmers had to go on about knifecutting each other!
    Grumble!
    It´s wrong when one group causes another group to suffer infringement on their right… grumble. Stupid Stockholmers, you imperialists!

    But run for the fransiscaners and seek asylum. Pretend you were robbed in the streets and they took all your clothes etc. And bang your head into a wall or something and pretend some handy memory loss. I know it´s gonna hurt your atheistic souls, but the pious ones are probably the only ones would would really be willing to take care of you. ;)

    And if you are really worried, come and hang around my place a while and I can teach you some skills that where useful back then, like making fire with steel and firestone, woodcarving etc… Who cares about lates science when it comes down to bare survival.
    And learn some magic tricks! You could always get by as a “gycklare”.

  37. #37 Martin R
    December 29, 2009

    That does it. I’m gonna ditch my clothes, march up to the first aristocratic lady I see and offer escort services.

  38. #38 T Willbanks
    December 29, 2009

    The ‘Crosstime Engineer’ series by Leo Frankowski is about this scenario. A 20th century engineer finds himself in 1200 AD Poland.

  39. #39 Soren Larsen
    December 29, 2009

    Go to Rome as paid pilgrim.

    Get job at ice house or ice supplier.

    Get salt, sweetener, eggs, cream.

    Be the bloody first icecream salesman in Rome.

    If you cant make it from there, curls up in fetal position in front of Saint Peters.

  40. #40 stripey_cat
    December 29, 2009

    Assuming I could persuade some charitable soul to take in the poor crazy-woman, I’d still be stuffed. Apart from anything else, I’m on medication that has a withdrawal period of weeks to months! Then, when I stopped falling over (and assuming I don’t either have another nervous breakdown or succumb to asthma), I still would have the really, really odd skill-set.

    I can read (and write a little) Classical (or classicising) Latin, but any mediaeval Latin would stump me. Furthermore, my script is odd, and not adapted to a quill. Similarly, I’ve got the basics of arithmetic and maths (I could keep accounts, for instance, or do some types of calculation), but I’ve never used a log-table in my life. In “modern” languages, I could read a little French and some Germanic dialects, as well as middle-English, but speak or write none of them comprehensibly. In fact, classicising Latin would be my best bet at communication if I encountered someone with the education to understand me! At this point, though, my total ignorance of the liturgies (or any other subject you’d expect an educated woman to be familiar with) would be as suspicious as all heck.

    In practical skills, my spinning would disgrace a toddler (which would itself be suspicious in many cultures), and my hand-sewing and knitting are well below production speed. On the other hand, I can design and cut garments, and know a wide range of interesting embroidery techniques. On a hypothetical third hand, would you hire a designer who couldn’t sew well enough to be an underling?
    I can cook, but in a modern kitchen – wood-fired ovens and spits require very different approaches! I’d probably survive as a scullery-girl if someone would hire me, and work up.
    I can garden, although a lot of specific knowledge would be for crops not currently in cultivation. Also, in a lot of cultures, the more physical and skilled aspects of gardening were men’s work – I’d probably be stuck with weeding or similarly low-paid jobs.
    Livestock, I’ve only dealt with horses. I could work as a stable-boy, except I have far too much hip to disguise myself as a lad.

    Realistically, my very best hopes would be to be taken into service somewhere, and with a lot of luck possibly get promoted to the sort of more senior posts that textile skills and account-keeping would open up (either a body-servant or a housekeeper in time).

  41. #41 george.w
    December 29, 2009

    It might be a good idea to fake a head injury.
    By the way, a similar scenario befalls the hotel director at the end of the 1993 French time-travel comedy, Les Visiteurs.

    #26: “The painting georgew. refers to (# 5) is Piazza San Marco – Looking South East by Canaletto, showing, of course, the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) in Venice, Italy. It was painted between 1735 and 1740.”

    Thank you Fräulein Rottenmeier!

  42. #42 MikeB
    December 30, 2009

    Your chances of surviving/prospering probably would depend on how far back you went, and where you ended up. Your biggest problems are going to be language, skills, customs and appearance/clothing.

    If you go back to the 18th century, as far as England would be concerned, you can probably speak the language (to some extent), you may even be able to get away with a modern business suit and long wool coat as clothing as long as you say its the latest fashion at court/abroad (at least for a short time), and you might just get without offending/being killed by anyone, but most of the skills you’d need are ones we largely no longer have.

    The BBC have just finished showing ‘A Victorian Farm Christmas’, following on from a year with three people ‘living’ like Victorian farmers http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00grv47 (watch it, its pretty good). If you’d been brought up on a farm, you’d probably be OK.
    And an urban Victorian lifestyle would be perfectly possible. You’d understand the language, and possibly be fine with the money, if you were old enough to know about pounds, shillings and pence. You possibly even live in a Victorian house, so its not going to be a total shock.

    However, when you go back to their previous series, ‘Tales from the Green Valley’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tales-Green-Valley-Owen-Teale/dp/B000BND09Y/ref=pd_sim_b_5 (again, highly recommended) set c.1620, life gets a lot more difficult. A lot of the farming stuff you might get away with (if you had that sort of background), but in a middle of a city its a completely different story.
    You’d certainly have to get some new clothes as quickly as possible, the skills you would need to survive, never mind prosper, would generally be different to most you have now (although stripey_cat would be well ahead of me). You’d have little idea of the customs and morality of the period, and the language becomes much more difficult.

    And if your back in the medieval period – have you tried reading Chaucer?

    If your zoomed back to around 1510, you’ve got three options:

    1) If you can understand what people are saying, find the most important person you can as quickly as possible – and be their personal doctor, seer and necromancer.

    2) If you have little or no idea what their on about, stay quiet, dig ditches, etc, and try to learn the language a bit before dying (this is probably my fate).

    3) Follow Martin R’s example and become a ‘Time Travelling Gigolo’ (now there’s an idea for a sequel!). You’ve got your own teeth, you’ve had your shots and you don’t have rickets, etc (at least not to begin with), so your ahead of most of your competition.
    Your going to be speaking the international language of love, so don’t worry about not understanding everything.

    Just don’t forget to shake your money maker….

  43. #43 Tom Des Jardins
    January 3, 2010

    No worries. We would all be killed for heresy:
    – The world is round.
    – Newtonian physics.
    – Evolution.
    – Advanced math (We all use “0”s)
    – Reading and writing in a language not yet invented (written word was predominately Latin in many places)
    – Don’t even get started on flying….

    Of course I’m an ok sailor so perhaps I could do navigation. The bad news is I have become dependent on my GPS so my trig is none existent. I probably could do ok with rigging and hull design ideas if I could get to a decent port.

    The good news is I’m vaccinated against smallpox and most other problems. The bad news is the food would probably kill me. If you picked someplace with some steel to dump me, I probably could reinvent a steam engine and a basic generator, although getting “load stones” might be a pain.

    I think Ireland might be the safest place for me culturally, learning was respected there then, and I probably could learn latin

  44. #44 Electric Landlady
    January 11, 2010

    Here via Orac. I worry about this too! No modern dentistry, anaesthesia, analgesia, antisepsis, etc. etc. etc. I have allergies and asthma and myopia, so that would suck. Plus, if I ever get pregnant I’ll have to deliver by C-section because of past surgery, so… yay, horrible death from uterine rupture?

    I figure my only marketable skill is literacy. But my handwriting is horrible, so probably employment as a clerk is out too, even if I could find someone to employ a woman. Yeah, staying in the 21st century, thanks…

  45. #45 Martin R
    January 11, 2010

    Yeah, I’ve been thinking about the handwriting thing too. Never mind whether or not you write a neat hand today — it would be the wrong hand for the age, and also you’d probably be incapable of reading those people’s handwriting! Scary.

    BTW, I love your nick. (-;

  46. #46 Ian Tindale
    January 11, 2010

    At risk of derailing this conversation, but providing raw material for perhaps a new one if someone would like to pick mine up:

    I would suggest that what we’re facing, right now in 2010, is the realisation or discovery that we all suffer from a hitherto unidentified condition or syndrome. The syndrome of perpetually worrying about being equipped for temporal transference to a different era.

    Face it. You worry about it, I worry about it, we all worry about it. We spend measurable time worrying about something that has never, can never and will never actually happen to anyone – let alone ourselves. But we do, and it adds up to a significant amount of our thinking and planning and fantasising time. Much of our strategic planning and some of our tactical decision-making hinges on equipping ourselves for time travel. At least, in our heads it does.

    This actually reflects on outward manifestations of life decisions. Time is spent on planning what we’d say, what we’d do. Much time is spent thinking about how we’d teach (and who we’d teach) certain aspects of our modern life. Perhaps aspects that once baffled us, or at least had the potential to.

    Personally, I suspect that this effect is an outward effect of the process of our own validation that we understand certain things in life. Life is complex, and technical aspects of life are more so, and we like to think we’re on top of most of it. I think this interchangeable mass-fantasy shared-experience is, in the form of a rehearsal, our way of practicing and verifying that we understand it ourselves.

  47. #47 kai
    January 12, 2010

    Luckily we don’t have that in Sweden.

    Are you sure? This article suggests Swedish physicians have pretty long hours too, but perhaps still not quite as much as in a US-style residency.

  48. #48 Martin R
    January 12, 2010

    IFAIK, extremely long hours are not a standard feature of Swedish med school.

  49. #49 SteinL
    January 15, 2010

    I’d go to the nearest port, find a group of merchants with ships, ask to be taken to their leaders, and entice them with information about where to get specific goods.

    I’d be one rich and powerful and well protected man within months.

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