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

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

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.

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