Richard Wiese has spent his career bridging cultural gaps.
Traveling to all 7 continents, he’s tagged jaguars in the Yucatan jungles, led expeditions to the Northern Territory of Australia, joined the largest medical expedition ever conducted on Mt. Everest, discovered 29 new life forms on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and cross-country skied to the North Pole.
The Weston resident is host and executive producer of “Born to Explore,” the award-winning PBS television series produced on Main Street. He’s also in his 3rd term as president of the Explorers Club, a 116-year-old international organization dedicated to the 4 corners of the earth — plus oceans and outer space.
Yet on Tuesday, Wiese created an important cross-cultural connection with just one person: the woman sitting next to him on a plane, stuck on the tarmac in Oslo.
The woman was brought on the Norwegian Air flight in a wheelchair. When she was seated, a flight attendant spoke to her in English. It was clear to Wiese that no matter how slowly she talked, his seatmate did not understand a word.
The woman fumbled with her phone. Wiese was able to figure out she was from Bangladesh.
He typed, “Can I help you?” — and then used Google Translate to ask the question in Bengali.
The woman wanted her son to know she was on the flight, as they waited out a delay.
Wiese contacted her son — in Bangladesh.
Weise then learned she was lactose-intolerant. “That was an unusual translation,” he says. He told a flight attendant, who found a special meal for her.
Wiese texted the woman’s son when they landed, and made sure she got off the plane okay.
“JFK is not the friendliest place in the world,” he notes. It was nice she had someone who cared — even if he “spoke” Bengali only with a smartphone.
“It felt good to help someone,” Wiese adds. “It was as easy for me to do that as it was to answer emails. And it’s nice to know you can use your phone for something other than that, and games.”