Staying Strong in the Face of Lying, Smiling, Gout-nosed Trolls

I saw “rice with mango” on the menu of desserts, so I asked the waiter “Is this rice the sweet, sticky rice with coconut?”

He said, “No,” with a beatific smile. Sigh. I know that smile, oh how well I know that blissful smile. The smile of a soul totally evolved and way beyond mere human concerns – the smile of a person who is so Zen, they know up is down and are released from all mortal cares. I really hate that smile. It meant that although the man was a waiter in a restaurant with 4 appetizers, 4 salads, 12 dishes and 4 desserts, he did not know any of the items on the menu; further; he did not care. He would answer any question however his fancy struck him and if it turned out wrong, he would smile

Darling, I know you are thinking “that’s a lot for one smile.” But my dear, I live this reality every day. Living in the Middle East means continually dealing with people who aren’t trained for or interested in their jobs and you have to control yourself or it all ends up with flinging tables, phones in water pitchers, torn curtains and socks stuck to the ceiling.

“Is the rice sweet?” I asked.

“No,” smile.

 “Is there sugar in the rice?” Changing up the question is vital.

“No,” smile.

“Is there coconut in the rice?”

“No,” smile.

“Is the rice plain?” Always ask the reverse to check for comprehension.

“Yes,” smile.

“It is normal rice?”

“Yes,” smile.

So I ordered it and yes, of course, as I knew it would be: the rice was the sweet, sticky, coconut-flavored rice.

“This rice is sweet, with sugar and coconut,” I said when he came to bring me the bill.

“Yes,” smile.

I heard the woman at the next table ask about what items were vegetarian and he answered that they all were. I was longing to lean over and say, “If it’s important, go ask the cook” but the times I have done something like that people don’t believe me. So I stayed silent and as I was about to leave, I saw her pick up the bowl of soup and yell “There are pieces of chicken!”

Darling, what is one of my very favorite things? Room service! And now with the virus, most hotels only serve food with room service, but what it the result? You know how you fill out the sheet for breakfast and put it on your door? Mine arrived (on time) with the wrong kind of eggs, wrong kind of toast, wrong kind of fruits, wrong kind of juice, and 2 pepper shakers but no salt. And this is with the request made in writing. I didn’t bother to complain because of course the person at the other end of the line would have a beatific smile.

I have been in hotels where I asked employees where the pool was and got the wrong answer with a smile (or the information that there was no pool while standing next to a large poster with a photo of the hotel’s pool); I have asked for ice and got two half-melted cubes on a plate. Two. I asked one waiter what time it was and he said, “no problem!” Smile.

Airplane check in (back in February) I needed to figure out if the plane was going to leave on time or not. If on time, then I could check my bag for the connecting flight ; if not, I would need to take it as carry-on.

So I ask the check-in clerk, “Will we leave on time?”

“Yes,” beatific smile. Sigh.

“So we will leave at 11:45?’

“Yes,” smile.

“Has the plane for this flight landed yet?”

“No,” smile.

“When will it arrive?”

“11:15,” smile.

 “When will it actually, really arrive?”

“11:45,” smile.

“Well, since we are supposed to leave at 11:45am; if the plane gets in at 11:45, we won’t leave on time.”

Giggle, smile.

“Ok, well I will take my bag on the plane because we will be late and I have a tight connection.”

“No, Madame, it will leave on time!” smile.

“It’s ok. I will take it with me.”

“The flight will leave 12:30, not late!”

“But we are supposed to leave at 11:45, so we will be late.”

“Not very late, maybe one hour,” smile.

I smile back.

Darling, keep your combat skills for when you really need them – no screaming at hotel, restaurant, airport or airline employees no matter what nonsense they spout. No one, I mean no one needs or wants more cortisol in their system these days.

This means you need to take responsibility and be vigilant. If there is something you can’t eat – go back into the kitchen and check it out for yourself or bring your own food. Never trust a waiter unless you know the restaurant well and are sure you and the waiter both have native-like speaking ability in the same language.

Ask and ask again (I questioned five different employees at a small airport if there was X store, all said no and of course the store was there) – just because someone works at a location does not mean that they know anything about it. And many people simply say ‘yes’ because they don’t understand what you are asking.

It’s on you, Darling – it’s all on you. Make peace with the imperfections and the wrong kind of toast (or do what I did, dramatically flung it out the window so that it fell into the jasmine bushes…). No scenes, no yelling, no threats, no denunciations, no recriminations and no “GET ME YOUR MANAGER.”

It’s a pandemic, people are miserable – don’t add to general unhappiness of the world. Deep breath, think about something that makes you happy: lavender fields in Provence, reindeer in the snow, Scottish castles, Caribbean beaches, or fat, happy bears trundling through the Alaska wilderness.

y-soulacroix - drawings

(Frederic Soulacroix)