Mixed messages at breakfast
I long to tell her to go straight to the buffet and pull up a chair and leave the waiters in peace
Frequently I journey alone and inevitably end up eavesdropping on conversations around me. These could be at airports or in hotel foyers but mostly they are at breakfast. It is the one meal of the traveller’s day when it seems perfectly acceptable to be alone and not identified by others as a Nancy (or Nigel) No Friends, doomed to dine solo. I am relaxed at breakfast, fuelling up for the day, blending in, ears like antennae.
So there I am in Asia, happily by myself, and the couple behind me are ordering food, very loudly. Mister wants scrambled eggs on toast. “What is the special today?” asks missus. “A mixed omelette,” replies the hotel waiter. “What’s that?” asks missus. “It is an omelette with cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms and onions.”
“OK,” says missus. “I will have the mixed omelette.” The waiter passes in front of me, on his way to place the order. But it is not going to be that simple. “Hey!” calls missus. He returns to the table. “I want the mixed omelette but I need you to hold the cheese and the tomatoes and the mushrooms … and what was the other stuff?” Mister buts in and I detect a weariness in his voice. “Onions.” The waiter runs away.
A supervisor returns, all sparkly badge and shiny shoes. “Is there a problem?” he asks. “Yes there is a problem,” says missus, sounding testy now. “Your waiter can’t understand a simple breakfast order.”
“I am sorry about that,” says the supervisor in impeccable English. “I gather you want a plain omelette and not a mixed omelette. Is that correct?”
“I want the mixed omelette damn it,” she shrieks. “I want the special of the day. I always have the special of the day, don’t I, George?”
“Yes dear,” replies mister. “Please bring my wife the special of the day without the … well, the mixed bit.”
Sorted. Everyone happy. Except me. I want to rise from my chair and thump missus because now she is bleating that no one “in this godforsaken place” understands English. I long to tell her to go straight to the buffet and pull up a chair and leave the waiters in peace. I don’t, of course, but bury myself in a newspaper.
Then missus wants coffee. She will have a cafe latte, which she pronounces “cafe later”. It is the same waiter, who looks so scared he may well break out in hives. Off he scuttles. Mister and missus wait and wait. He gets his English breakfast tea. Nothing arrives for her except, when summoned, the supervisor.
Mister takes over. I take out my pressed face-powder so I can watch proceedings in the mini-mirror. “My wife ordered coffee?”
The supervisor smiles. “Yes of course. She ordered it for later.” There is the sound of choking as a Clinique compact crashes to the floor. I can barely breathe for laughter. It is but a momentary interruption. “I think perhaps it is later now,” says the supervisor, “and so the coffee will arrive.”
Missus gathers her skirts in protest and marches off, possibly in search of a Starbucks. Mister is left alone so I offer him my newspaper as I prepare to leave.
“Have a lovely day,” I say. He nods and smiles a little, but not with much conviction.