Fact or fiction

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

This happened on TAM airlines. A 50-something year old white woman arrived at her seat and saw that the passenger next to her was a black man.

Visibly furious, she called the air hostess.

“What’s the problem, ma?” the hostess asked her

“Can’t you see?” the lady said. “I was given a seat next to a black man. I can’t seat here next to him. You have to change my seat”

Oh, you’re on the Facebook. OK. You’ve seen it plastered all over everyone’s walls and read the replies ‘oh my God, that’s awesome, that flight attendant deserves a medal!’

Now stop me if you’ve heard this one.

WARNING: Men are trying to sell perfume in parking lots. DO NOT SMELL. IT IS NOT PERFUME. You will pass out and get raped. Please pass on two all of your women friends.

Oh, you’ve had an email address since 1996. You may even be in my mother’s address book.

Now stop me if you’ve heard this one.


We’re skeptics. So many of these stories have been proven false or had their truth stretched that the internet is populated with sites demystifying their tales.

You’ve heard of Snopes and Hoax Slayer, no doubt. While both sites are in desperate need of a design overhaul from their mid-90s launches, they’re a wealth of information, dispelling — or on the rare occasion proving — each urban legend.

While some truths are disappointing, many of these stories have been handed down through the generations.

This is not new.

Storytelling is not new.

It’s how we know cultural effects of civilizations long gone by. Egyptians had hieroglyphs and Canadian Blackfoot First Nations left behind pictographs at what is now known as Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park.

We write our stories now, whether it’s in the pages of a published book, scrawled in a diary or typed away on a blog site like this one.

And there’s a touch of discomfort as I, a former journalist who seeks the truth, tell you this: sometimes it’s OK that the story isn’t real.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

There once was a shepherd boy who was bored as he sat on the hillside watching the village sheep. To amuse himself he took a great breath and sang out, “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!”

Sound familiar? That’s an Aesop fable. You may have studied it in literature when you were in junior high or high school.

We learned lessons of morality and common sense from Aesop and his stories, much like we can learn a lot of lessons from that other great work of fiction, the name I dare not type.

Ahem … [cough] … parables … [cough] …

The Boy Who Cried Wolf taught us not to lie for attention, lest we one day need that for real help.

The Tortoise and the Hare taught us that slow and steady can win the race.

The Parables of Jesus taught us to help each other, to love, to forgive … valuable lessons even if you don’t believe in the giant bearded dude in the sky.

The Tale of the Racist Airline Passenger drives home the point that intolerance is wrong … and that public intolerance deserves public humiliation, apparently.

Before we jump to the THAT’S NOT REAL, YOU KNOW! declaration, we could stand to see the message behind the tale.

Although 15 years later, I’m still not sure what lesson I’ve learned from the perfume story. I’m pretty sure I’ve always known not to buy perfume from dudes in a parking lot.

Or at Wal-Mart.



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