Haviland's most recent book, Old Man Fog and the Last Aborigines of Barrow Point (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998), recounts the stories of Roger Hart, the last speaker of his language, and includes tales of Haviland's travels with Hart. The introduction, by Hopevale community member and noted Aboriginal activist and advocate Noel Pearson, relates a story that illustrates Haviland's mastery of the language. He writes about Haviland "standing with a group of men around the old curio shop . . . when a Hopevale man, newly arrived from down south, and not knowing who John was, joked to the locals `Ganaa ngayu yii wangarr bagal?' (Is it all right if I just beat this white fella up?) The joker got the fright of his life when this six-and-a-half-foot American said in perfect Guugu Yimithirr: `Nyundu nganhi baadala, ngayu warra mangaalmu!' (Just you have a go, [and see if] I have no hands!)"
One of Haviland's stories about Australia gives some insight into part of the reason he fits so seamlessly into other cultures: he has an ethnically unidentifiable face that could belong almost anywhere. Haviland tells about how a young Hopevale man who had been off at school and didn't know him asked Haviland what his language was. Not understanding what he meant, Haviland told him it was English. The young man said, no, we all speak English, what's your language? "He figured," said Haviland, "that the only reason anyone would be in this godforsaken, out-of-the-way place learning about this language was that he was some poor, dispossessed, Aboriginal half-caste guy who didn't have a language. So he meant, what's your ancestral language, the one you don't speak anymore, the reason you're up here trying to learn this language. . . . Actually I think that this strange, vaguely ambiguous foreign look that I've had all my life is probably part of what made me do anthropology in the end."
Haviland also tells of playing in Chiapas on the San Cristobal de las Casas all-star basketball team in the 1970s: "San Cristobal in those days was known for having an extremely dangerous basketball team with three tall guys-two of them gringos. One of them was called the `Gringo Blanco,' who was a missionary from Michigan. The other one was called the `Gringo Escondido,' the hidden gringo: that was me."