Thursday, March 10, 2005

Breakfast at Alexandria

I promised more about Alexandria. Several days late, other than a truly spectacular seafood dinner at Abu Ashraf's the thing that has most lodged in my head is the oddity of our breakfast at the Windsor Palace Hotel.

We sat down for breakfast at a table with five seats, as there were no small tables left. Bob collected what he wanted quickly while I cruised an excellent buffet. When I returned he nodded quietly towards a plate with a single segment of orange on it, and a half cup of black coffee.

“She has been to the table twice and hasn’t yet acknowledged my existence.”

Then a gentleman sat down in the seat beside me. He didn't look at us.

In good Australian style I said ‘good morning’ and was ignored.

Then the lady (blond and slim enough to snap if she attempted to pullup her socks) came back with a half piece of burnt toast on her plate.

Bob waited till she was seated and very clearly and loudly said “good morning.”

She did not even look our way, but sat and gave all her attention to the man beside her.

Both began chatting loudly and very enthusiastically, with lots of nodding and ‘ja, ja’.

Bob said loudly “It is odd being ignored isn’t it?”

I nodded. The conversation had reached a rattling pace on the other side of the table. He was eating, she toyed with her half piece of burnt toast, then examined the segment of orange carefully, peeled off some stray white bits and put it back on her plate. She didn’t actually eat even one mouthful.

Bob said “I couldn’t keep up this level of conversation at the breakfast table.” He couldn’t either – he tends to move into business mode at breakfast, and ask me things like “What’s on your itinerary for today?”

He smiled across the table as the woman almost glanced our way, then her eyes skittered away like a frightened pony. She went back to talking with animation to her partner. It was all I could do not to just sit and stare, as it all felt so peculiar.

It reminded me of a time when I had dinner with an Austrian friend while living in Jordan. After the meal she rounded on me and accused me of terrible table manners, and said that was very bad for an Ambassador’s wife.

I was a bit non-plussed, and asked what I had done. She pointed out that while eating soup I had my left hand in my lap, not resting at the wrist on the table as it was supposed to be.

I pointed out that it seemed to me that hardly anyone had a wrist on the table, and she said “but they are not cultured, you are supposed to be.” I pointed out that I suspected that it was European manners, and was not known in Australia or Jordan and she said that she was glad she had told me so I could get it right in future.

Anyway, it suddenly occurred to me that this couple at the breakfast table was probably as appalled at our bad manners in acknowledging their existence, as we were appalled at theirs in not acknowledging us! Both of us were breeching etiquette according to our customs.

She ate nothing through a long breakfast, just reduced everything on her plate to very small pieces. We left without them ever even looking at us.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Jenny,
What an odd experience! I guess it is all about different cultures. I can't imagine sharing a table with other people and not even acknowledging them. And fancy you goofing your manners so badly in Jordan! (grin)
What wonderful experiences you are having! Keep up the great work and I hope you feel better soon.

Terri, Northam WA

11:03 pm  
Anonymous Aussie in Montevideo said...

Outside of Montevideo, and the glitzy summer resort Punta del Este, everywhere else as you enter the dining room for breakfast you look at each table in turn and exchange "buenas dias" -a brief acknowledgement of your fellow man - before sitting at your own table. I really like the way they do that here. But I think most people anywhere would say good morning or at least nod or smile to someone actually at the same table, though. From your description of their behaviour, I think something else was going on, and it had nothing to do with you two having two heads each and being covered with green spots.

5:50 pm  

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