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The Accidental Tourist Summary in English by Bill Bryson

The Accidental Tourist by Bill Bryson About the Author

Bill Bryson (full name: William Maguire Bryson) is an Anglo-American author, based in the United Kingdom.

He is one of the most popular writers of non-fiction and has written books on travel, history and science, among others. Some of his most famous books include Notes from a Small Island, The Lost Continent and a Short History of Nearly Everything. Before becoming a full-fledged writer, Bryson worked as a journalist for The Times and The Independent. From 2005-2011 he served as Chancellor of Durham University. He was President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England for five years. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society. His clever crafting of witty, light-hearted sentences has made him a favourite with readers all over the world.

The Accidental Tourist Summary in English

At the outset, the author claims that he is not very good at living in the real world. He says that he finds it difficult to do the simplest things that other people seem to do with ease. For instance, whenever he stays at a hotel, he has to visit the hotel desk multiple times to remember what his room number is. He finds locating lavatories at cinema halls immensely difficult. He claims that he is easily confused.

The author narrates the story of his last family trip that took place during Easter. They were flying from Boston to England for a week. While at the Logan Airport in Boston, the author remembered that he had enrolled in the British Airways’ frequent flyer programme and that the card was in the bag he was carrying around his neck. This was the beginning of his troubles.

The zip of the bag was stuck; the author pulled at it harder and harder till suddenly the side of the bag flew open and its contents were strewn all over the floor. These included about a hundred pages of documents, his passport, English money, film and a 14-ounce tin of pipe tobacco. He was horrified at the thought of how expensive tobacco would be in England. He then noticed that he had cut his finger on the zip and it was now bleeding heavily. Being uncomfortable with bleeding in general, he felt it was justified to be hysterical since it was his blood that was shedding. He says that even his hair had become so confused and helpless that it went into panic mode. At this point, his wife looked at him with pure wonder: she found it hard to believe that he travelled to make a living.

The author says that mishaps of such kinds occur frequently when he travels. He recalls an incident on an aeroplane where he had bent to tie his shoelace at the exact moment that the person seated in front had reclined his seat—the author was stuck in the crash position and only managed to free himself by clawing at the leg of the passenger seated next to him.

He says that on another flight, he spilled a soft drink onto the lap of a lady seated next to him. When the flight attendant handed him another drink, he spilled that on the lady as well. He says that he still does not understand how it happened. All he remembers is that his arm had acted out of control—like a cheap prdp in a typical 1950s horror movie.

The author then narrates his worst travel experience. On one flight, the author was writing down important thoughts, and while doing so, he was absent-mindedly sucking on the end of his pen. He then spoke to an attractive young lady sitting beside him for about twenty minutes, after which he made his way to the restroom. There he saw that his pen had leaked and his mouth, chin, tongue, teeth and gums had been coloured navy blue and would remain so for several days.

The author confesses that it is his dream to be polished and sophisticated. Just for once, he wants to be able to rise up from a dinner table without upsetting everything on it; fold his coat properly while seating himself into a car and not close the door while half of it lies outside; and wear light-coloured trousers without staining it with things like ice cream, motor oil, etc. He says that now when he travels with his family on planes, his wife asks the children to remove the lids from boxes of food and warns them when he cuts pieces of meat. When he flies alone, he does not eat or drink at all. He simply sits still and quiet, sometimes on his hands to prevent them from going out of control and causing accidents. This method, according to him, is very effective in keeping his clothes clean.

Even though he flies 100,000 miles a year, the author never gets his frequent flyer miles. He finds this quite disheartening, especially when he sees people flying off to exotic places like Bali in first class, thanks to their flyer miles. This is because he mostly forgets to ask for it when he checks in; and even when he does, the airlines fail to record it. He has also frequently been told that he is not entitled to any flyer miles. For instance, on a flight to Australia, he had expected to gain a large number of frequent flyer miles. To his dismay, the clerk told him that since the card is in the name of a W. Bryson and the ticket was in the name of a B. Bryson, he was not entitled to gain any miles. He tried to explain that William and Bill have a very close relationship, as they are the same person, but the clerk dismissed him.

The author is resigned to the fact that perhaps he will not be flying off to Bali soon; but finds consolation in the thought that he could not survive such a long flight without food anyway.

The Accidental Tourist Title

The title suggests that the writer is a tourist, not by choice, but by accident. It is a pun on the word accident, as he has several accidents while travelling. In fact, this effectively captures the various misadventures that he has while travelling with his family. It also suggests that the anecdotes and events described are humorous and should be taken in a lighter vein.

The Accidental Tourist Setting

The story is set in modem times, and describes several places frequented by a modem traveller, such as airports, hotels and places of tourist interest.

The Accidental Tourist Theme

The story highlights the predicament of a modem traveller, the issues that he has to face in a bid to look smart and suave like the other people who travel along with him.

The Accidental Tourist Message

The message that we get from the anecdotes in this story, is to look at events in a lighthearted way. It suggests that we should not become too serious about any setbacks we may face. Throughout the chapter, the writer faces one disastrous situation after another, but none of it mins his trip, because he is able to view each situation with humour.

The Accidental Tourist Characters

The Writer: He appears to be a positive, funny, and self-deprecating man who does not mind highlighting his shortcomings. In fact, every instance that could have embarrassed other people has been shown in a humorous light. He has found humour in the most disastrous and frustrating situations. Even when he loses the chance to go to Bali when the airline refuses to give him air miles on a technical reason, he does not lose his temper. He does not take himself too seriously and readily accepts his clumsiness. He doesn’t try to hide any of the embarrassing accidents he has had, but honestly admits to them. His family also appears to have accepted him the way he is, and leamt to handle him along with his ‘accidents’.

The writer’s most endearing quality is how comfortable he is with his own self. Even though he talks about wanting to be suave and gentlemanly like other travellers, he is not too worried when he is unable to do so, in spite of his best efforts. He thus comes across as a clumsy, accident- prone, but good natured person.

The Accidental Tourist Summary Questions and Answers

Question 1.
Bill Bryson says “I am, in short, easily confused.” What examples has he given to justify this?
He gives the example of returning to his hotel desk two or three times a day, asking what his room number was. He also talks about looking for a lavatory and ending up standing in an alley on the wrong side of a self¬locking door.

Question 2.
What happens when the zip on his carry-on bag gives way?
The side of the bag flew open and everything inside it, like newspaper cuttings, other loose papers, a 14-ounce tin of pipe tobacco, magazines, passport, English money, film, etc, were scattered all over the place. He also injured his finger, which bled profusely.

Question 3.
What causes his finger to bleed? How does his wife react?
His finger was cut on the zip when he was trying to open it. His wife looked at him with an expression of wonder and commented that she couldn’t believe that he did that for a living.

Question 4.
How does Bill Bryson end up in a ‘crash position’ in the aeroplane?
This happened when he bent down to tie his shoelaces while seated in the plane, and the person in the seat ahead of him threw back his seat back in a full recline. As a result, Bill Bryson found himsglf doubled over and pinned helplessly in the ‘crash position’.

Question 5.
Why do the writer’s teeth and gums turn navy blue?
This happens when the writer was penning down important thoughts in his notebook during a flight. He had been sucking thoughtfully on the end of his pen while doing so. He had not realised that in the process, his teeth and gums had turned navy blue because of the ink.

Question 6.
Bill Bryson ‘ached to be suave’. Is he successful in his mission?
No, he is not suave in spite of his best efforts, because he always looks as though he has been through an earthquake when he rises from a dinner table. He can never get inside a car without having at least 14 inches of his coat hanging outside the door. He can never wear light coloured trousers without having chewing gum, ice cream, cough syrup, or motor oil stains on them.

Question 7.
Why do you think Bill Bryson’s wife says to the children, ‘Take the lids off the food for Daddy’?
She says this because her husband is so accident-prone that she expects the food to go all over the place or some such accident to happen if he is allowed to open the lid himself. This is because of his earlier accidental incidents that always happen whenever he tries to perform simple actions, especially during flights.

Question 8.
What is the significance of the title?
The title suggests that the writer is a tourist, not by choice, but by accident. It is a pun on the word accident, as he has several accidents while travelling. In fact, this effectively captures the various misadventures that he has while travelling with his family. It also suggests that the anecdotes and events described are humorous and should be taken in a lighter vein.

Question 9.
Why does the writer say ‘living in the real world’ is challenging for him?
He says this because he has had several experiences of doing something wrong in instances where normal people have no problems. For instance, things like remembering his room number in an hotel, or finding the lavatory at a movie theatre.

Question 10.
Why did the writer feel the need to open his carry-on bag at Logan Airport?
He wanted to open the bag to take out his frequent flyer card, which he had kept inside it.