Whoever this person is, he, or possibly maybe she, is your first human introduction to a new place. As you leave the point-of-arrival and drive down the roads through the city, town or countryside, you can ask him questions about what you're seeing. A particularly friendly driver might play the tour guide as you're driving. A particularly unfriendly driver suggests to you that this may not be the friendliest place.
You gauge your linguistic compatibilities with this place by your ability to communication with your driver. You conclude something about the culture on the basis of his driving style.
I've been doing a lot of arriving during the last year or two, and my drivers are people who have served me well, taken a risk in picking up a stranger at the airport, and continued to follow my progress during my stay in a new place.
- How embarrassing that I can no longer remember the name of our driver in Kosovo, a boyish looking blonde who felt completely incapable of speaking so much as a word in English. By the time I left I could speak with him in basic Albanian, and the ride back to the airport was one of my most memorable as I was 1+ hour late leaving for the airport and he drove like an absolute maniac to barely catch my flight.
- Luis, the humble Timorese driver who was waiting patiently for me at the airport in Dili. He said he'd rather speak English with me than Portuguese, but his English wasn't enough for a conversation. He was always so nice to me whenever we had car-business to address.
- Bernard, who picked me up in Haiti. He parked the car in a conspicuous spot then left on his own errand, even though I'd been fully warned of security rules and risks. So I stood by the car for 15 minutes and eventually he showed up and drove me to the office. French would work for him, he said, and he soon was assigned the night shift. He was my favourite of the night drivers.
- Ali picked me up in Khartoum last week and also didn't feel the need to come in to the airport to find me. Eventually I wandered through the airport parking lot and found the car with our logo. He apologised, saying he'd just really wanted some water after fasting all day. He was very friendly, shook my hand and chatted in the office the next day. This morning he took me back to the airport to catch my flight to Dar and gave me a going-away gift of a hollowed shell that he said Sue Danese use as a bowl for eating or drinking.