How would you acclimate someone from the past?

We all know what to do when you travel to past: don’t step on the bugs. So what happens when someone from the past travels to us?

A wizard accidentally sends someone forward in time from the middle ages. They turn out to be your great-great-great-lots-of-greats-something-or-other, so you feel obliged to help them. You have an average peasant from the middle ages living with you now. For simplicity’s sake, you share a language. What do you do?

What could you teach them? This person would almost definitely not be able to read. How long would it take before they were able to reliably do basic things on a computer?

How big an obstacle would faith be? Religion has changed a bit, and being the wrong faith might put you at odds. What would they think of a modern service?

Could they have any skills that might still be useful? Has technology made everything from that time obsolete?

What about all the things that we learned growing up and take for granted? Don’t drink that, it’s poisonous. Don’t touch that, it’s dangerous. How hard would it be to keep this person from hurting themselves?

What about bathing & hygiene? I know they did some bathing back then, but their standards were much different than ours.

Let’s hope they don’t have smallpox.

Let’s really hope that they don’t have a contagious disease that has since gone extinct, like the English sweating sickness. At least with smallpox, we know what it is, we know what precautions we need to take around people infected with it, and we can immunize people against it.

This brings up something I always wonder about when I think about time travel- would they be more vulnerable to diseases like the flu? People who get the flu have usually been exposed to other, at least somewhat similar, flu viruses before. That wouldn’t be the case for a time traveler. Would they be more vulnerable to things like flu than modern people are?

(All of this assumes said peasant is not a Native American. I’d expect a time-traveling pre-Columbian Native American to be in serious danger from disease)

Dinner at Hooters?

Not being able to read is going to be a major obstacle. I’d guess you’d have to rely on video as a primary teaching aid–after you first explain that the HDTV in the living room is not a product of witchcraft, and the guest shouldn’t oughta whack it with his axe.

In fact, the guest prolly should just not whack anything with his axe. Here, let me store that in the armory for you. That’s better.

As for useful skills…depends on where the host lives. A rural area and/or farm would be good. the guest probably knows something about agriculture and/or animal husbandry, maybe some light construction/fence building skills, sharpening tools, stuff like that.

You could take him to the Renaissance Fair.

Did the Wonderful Wizard of Olde tell him, “Hey, I’m a wizard and I’m sending you on a jaunt”? Did the wizard pretend to be some sort of religious personage- “Hey, I’m St. Whizzy, and I do miracles for God- watch this”? Or was it done without the person’s knowledge- he’s just walking around and poof, he’s in the future?

His mindset is going to make a big difference. If he’s palling around with wizards then you can just tell him everything is magic, at least until he gets used to it.
If he was sent against his will, he probably has the same views on magic as 99% of the rest of his generation- ie, they’re evil, evil people who work for the devil and spread havoc for laughs. In this case, he’ll be panicking, insanely suspicious of everyone and everything, and probably thinks he’s in Demon City or such. You might have trouble getting him to put down the ax.
If he thinks he was sent by a godly miracle, he’ll be less suspicious, but somewhat more religiously zealous. Again, any mention of magic will make him think you’re a devil. Best to keep him away from scary technology for a while, and tell him the lights and flush toilets and whatnot are miracles. Get a bible and try finding some mystic-y verses to back you up (“Those lights there are the lights mentioned in 6:13 of the Book of Thingummumy, where it says every righteous man shall have an eternal lamp over his head”).
If doesn’t know who or what sent him hear, you’ll have to be a bit more creative in finding out his mindset. He’d probably be suspicious of witchcraft, but not as much as if he thinks a witch hexed him.

This is a fun scenario to imagine, and I do it from time to time. Though I usually think about someone technically-minded from a point later in time, like Leonardo da Vinci or even Einstein. Sort of like “Look at what we did with your ideas!”

Someone from the middle ages would be much more complicated, though.

Yeah, he could probably use a good laugh after his trip.

If we’re talking some peasant ancestor from like 1310 or something - even given that the language barrier is squared away in the hypothetical - there is so little in common between their life and mine that I seriously doubt I could even begin to outline the frame of a conversation that would help them to adapt.

From a later period, yeah maybe Leonardo, at least there’d be some analogies and references to his imaginings that could be used to explain some things.

When it gets to the later eighteenth century, there’s an increasing load of people who would be able to grasp some aspects of modern life, even if before their future-transit they’d been working in a mill. They’d know about the power of machines, at least. That’s a start.

Any reasonably intelligent mid-to-late-Victorian would cope I think. There’s not much that is entirely new since then. (I think).

If she was hot, I’d start by reassuring her that we still get it on the same way they did back then.

Same here; I usually imagine explaining things to an engineer from around the time of the Civil War. If I find something I can’t explain “to him” in simple terms – I know it’s something I need to learn a little more about.

I think adjustment would be difficult, but not as bad as some here are saying. Consider that Chinese peasants emigrate from rural villages to New York City. They’re likely to be illiterate in our language (and possibly their own), unfamiliar with much of our culture and our technology. If they stay here, they find a way to acclimate.

Like a rural third-world immigrant, the medieval peasant probably wouldn’t rise above crappy jobs, but I think he or she could be trained in pushing a mop, gardening/lawn care, and maybe even the use of a sewing machine for sweatshop-style work.

You’d better send them back, or you won’t be born.

Well, I am going with the thought that it will be a female [me being female =)]

My ancestors in the 1300-1600 were upper middle class and lower nobility. I will figure that one of my Sanford ancestresses ended up here. She would have come here from just outside London.

I would set her up with a contact in the garment industry as she does fine needlework - lacework and various types of embellishment work. Fine handwork is valued on wedding gowns and other haute couture. The sempster I know in the business prefers home workers once he knows you can do the work unsupervised, so she could live anywhere that the cost of living is reasonable and she would be comfortable. I would probably suggest someplace like central or western NY state, parts of Pennsylvania, or many areas of the mid atlantic states once she got acclimated to modern houses and how things are done. From 1500-1600 she would know how to read and do simple sums, earlier she might be able to sign her name and do simple sums - women did have to know how to inventory household goods after all.

I saw the play Beethoven’s Tenth in London in 1984

Funny stuff!

Edited from a New York Times review from 1984

SERVING as both author and star, Peter Ustinov has brought Ludwig van Beethoven back from the grave in ‘‘Beethoven’s Tenth,’’ his new play

The setting is the contemporary London home of an impossibly vain and authoritarian music critic (George Rose) who has impeded the musical careers of both his wife, a prematurely retired mezzo-soprano, and his 22-year-old son, an aspiring composer. Just when it seems that the family’s squabbles are at an unbreakable impasse, the household’s Viennese au pair girl magically summons Ludwig to the living room to straighten everything out. Mr. Ustinov enters with a knock that sounds the opening phrase of the Fifth Symphony; pretty soon, he is discoursing in German-flecked English (thanks to language courses in heaven) and hearing some of his music for the first time (thanks to a hearing aid).

With his soiled 19th-century costume, wild thicket of hair and vast dyspeptic face, Mr. Ustinov is a spectacular sight. Forever muttering and cackling, he’s not averse to lunging gluttonously at any available wine bottle or female derri ere. And, at first, we delight in watching this portly anachronism bump heedlessly into the indignities of the modern world. Mr. Ustinov is the soul of mischievousness as he confronts an ear doctor dressed in jogging clothes or bounces on a chrome-and-leather chair or copes with the mysteries of a stereo system. Learning that his host is automatically sent free copies of new records, Mr. Ustinov slyly inquires, ‘‘Critics get presents these days as well as bribes?’’
The few genuinely witty jokes are musicological. Beethoven doesn’t always identify his own compositions correctly, and he drops condescending asides about Liszt and Schubert. He informs the critic, who’s writing a speculative tome on the subject, that his 10th Symphony would have been longer than the Ninth, with a chorus singing in Ancient Greek. The play’s epigrams are of a lesser order. Beethoven describes death as ‘‘merely a siesta of several centuries without a change of clothes’’ and grandly decrees that ‘‘stupidity is the one harvest that never fails.’’ We also must hear the composer’s unsurprising views on such contemporary matters as pollution, urban sprawl and, most of all, vulturous critics who overintellectualize the lives and art of major composers.

I think fiction tends to dramatically overestimate the acclimatization pain for the sake of the story and the reality is much more mundane. In the real world, people regularly move up or down several rungs in the social development chain; refugees, immigrants, citizens of a newly wartorn country etc. For the most part, they just get on with it, roll up their sleeves and figure out as best they can how to fit in. He calls the phone the telling bone.

I’m reminded of the advice given to Maasai warriors visiting London for a marathon in 2008.

For example:

"You may be surprised by the number of people that there are and they all seem to be rushing around everywhere…

"Even though some may look like they have a frown on their face, they are very friendly people…

"You cannot rely on the sun to tell the time accurately and will have to rely on clocks and watches…

“It is illegal to show certain parts of the body and for this reason it is important that you wear underpants if you are wearing your blankets.”

I do this too, but not necessarily to someone specifically from the past. Just trying to explain something to someone who doesn’t know how things work - I find it’s a great way to study, but also works to pass the time on long drives or insomniac nights! It always comes down to basic physics, though; if you can explain Newton’s Laws (which are rather easy to demonstrate at a beginner level), you can explain enough of a car to get a complete layman through the day. Going a bit further and explaining things like TVs and CDs involves light, but even someone who has ever lit a candle and a fireplace or used a mirror has a sense of how light can be “big” or “small” and directed at certain things, and maybe be different colours depending on what you’re burning. Analogies (even poor ones) can, again, get the very basics across. If the person from the past is willing to learn from you, I don’t think it would be too hard to explain enough about how things work, as long as you demonstrate along the way.

There is a lot of money to be made by them teaching people “lost” skills - whore them out!

If anything I think this might upset the person more. It would seem similar in some ways, yet be completely different. Better to be completely foreign and be done with it.

If she was hot, I’d tell her sex is the customary method of greeting nowadays.