Sunday, July 20, 2003

Dinner and a bit too much of a show

Hello everyone!

At last, the long-awaited email about meeting my classmates! :-) Well, truth be told, I only actually got to meet 3 of them, out of about 15-20, so it wasn't quite as comprehensive as I would have liked, but oh well! I did get to meet most of the teachers I'll be working with, and I feel that that is an inestimable bonus in the long run. I made friends with a lady named Kathy who it turns out will be the ones giving us our grades in the final week, so that was a happy accident! (Also, she's plus-sized, too, and gave me some tips on where to shop.) But anyway...on to the details! (and as they say, "Life is in the details!")

OK, I did NOT want to be late to this 7:30 dinner meeting (lest I show my true colors too soon!), so I decided to stake it out around 5 or so, just to make sure I knew where it was, and then hang out at someplace close-by so that I could wander in casually around 7:20 or so. The restaurant is located on a sidestreet that is off of the main street where I went to see a movie the other day, so I was familiar with how to get there. I decided to kill some time taking a few pictures of the beautiful buildings, shopping around a bit in the little grocery store by the metro stop, and just people watching. I sat down and ate some pretzels and drank some Fanta, and watched as the hordes of tourists tramped by. I like to fancy that as a person on her own, with no map out, with no camera out (if I use it, it goes immediately back into my bag), and looking a little swarthy, that I can occasionally pass as a native. As long as I keep my mouth shut and don't smile too much. :-)

As an aside: Someone suggested to me that I just have fun and smile...I mean absolutely no offense, but actually there is nothing I could do (aside from open my mouth and speak in English) that would instantly brand me a tourist as walking around with a big smile on my face. I love to smile, I have been told that I have a great smile, smiling usually works. But not here. The natives here do not smile that often, and so I usually wear what I think of as my "Prague Grimace" because if I act like I know where I'm going, and I'm wearing The Grimace, people leave me alone. The vendors don't yell out at me, pickpockets don't bother me (at least not yet!), and the general populace doesn't stare at me like they want to spit at my feet for being another goddamned tourist. I have seen them looking at groups of American tourists on the metro, and it ain't pretty. It's a look called, "Undisguised Loathing." And I don't want a piece of it, that's for sure!!

So, back to last night! :-) After hanging out for a bit, I decided to find the restaurant. I easily found the street and walked up it quite a ways, keeping an eye out for the restaurant. Along the way, I passed a bar called "Rocky O'Reilly's: The Biggest Irish Pub in Prague!" There were about 15 Irish soccer players spilling out of it as I passed, and one of them asked me to take their picture, which I did. I had no choice-they were huge and could have beaten me to a bloody pulp if I'd refused! But, I could hear a lot of merriment inside the pub as I passed, so I decided to check that out after I found the restaurant.

The restaurant, Titanic, was just a few doors down. I went in and inquired about a reservation for my school, and they confirmed that this was the right place. One of the head guys (who spoke the best English) helped me, and introduced himself to me as Martin, shaking my hand. Friendly in a brusque way-if that makes sense!

Anyway, I repaired to the Irish bar and was a little surprised to note that there were almost no women in it. There were maybe three at a table in the entryway, but around the corner and down the hall to the main bar area, it was just men. But there were female waitresses, so I wasn't totally alone, I suppose. So, I had over an hour to kill in a bar filled with noisy, probably half-drunk Irishmen. With BBC news on the telly, and a couple pints of Guinness, it wasn't a bad way to pass the time! The bartender was a very friendly Irish "bloke" who explained to me that it was almost always just men in here, and that they were one of the most popular bars in town for Stag parties. Interesting to note for the future. :-)

Eventually I pried myself off the bar stool and went to meet my classmates. I was the first there, joined shortly by a very tall man named Piers, who was--obviously--from England (Devon, to be precise). He is 32, and good-natured, but he speaks in practically a whisper, making it all but impossible to hear him in a loud restaurant. All of us kept saying, "I'm sorry, what was that??" every time he said anything!! I can't picture him being a teacher. And every time that someone mentioned something even a touch risque, he plugged his ears!!! Good grief! No wonder he's still single!

One of the other students there was a girl from Ireland, whose name is spelled something like Aeofie, and is pronounced "Eeffa". She is 24, and she just got done teaching in the United Arab Emerites for a year. She has a college degree, but no teaching credentials, like me. She's not sure what she'll do after this course, but she seems very strong-willed, so I'm sure it will be something interesting. We were sitting opposite each other at the table, so we talked quite a bit. She seems like someone that I could be friends with, so that was very encouraging!

The other classmate who showed up was a British woman in her late 50s, early 60s. I didn't get her name (might have been Pat), and she didn't talk very much.

The most interesting thing was to meet my teachers and the guy who interviewed me. First of all, they're all around my age, maybe up to age 30-32. All of them are British of one variety or another. They were all very pleasant to me, so that was nice. And they all have good senses of humor, which is promising. Also, they could probably drink me under the table, which is something I won't be testing anytime soon! They must have had 5-6 beers apiece during dinner and while we were sitting there afterwards.

We would have sat there all night, I'm afraid, except that the manager of the bar (the aforementioned Martin), told us that he was going to close up and we needed to leave. This was around 10:30 or so. A little unusual, but we had finished eating long ago. I was fucking exhausted, not to put too fine a point on it, so I was actually eager to leave. But, the teachers were PISSED as well as ANGRY :-) and plus the service had been a little slow all night. So, when Martin came around to collect the money (everyone was allowed to pay separately, by just telling him what you had eaten, not seeing a bill or anything), they were so rude to him, that I could not believe it. I mean, they had been making loud comments about the slowness of the waitress all night, but this was a lot worse. They kept loudly joking between themselves about how the service had been so slow and horrible all night, and talking about Martin right in front of him, like he didn't exist and like he was too stupid to understand what they were saying. I was appalled. They kept saying, "DON'T TIP HIM!! DON'T TIP HIM!!" and laughing and yelling about the horrible service. I kept wanting to shout, "THIS MAN UNDERSTANDS ENGLISH!! HE KNOWS WHAT YOU'RE SAYING!!" But of course, they probably knew this already and just simply did not care. It was so embarrassing.

When it was my turn to pay, I quietly told him what I had ordered, and my total was 145 Krowns. (Note: we had talked about tipping earlier, and the lady Kathy had told me that you just round up. I should have given him 150 total or maybe 160.) So, I handed him a 200 Krown note and said, "Please keep the change, Martin." Kathy, who was sitting right next to me said softly, "Oh that's way too much." So I said softly (even though I was raging on the inside), "Well, nobody else is tipping him and I won't be that rude!" (I should note that my total bill in dollars was about $6 and that the tip I gave him was equal to about $2-perhaps too much if I was on my own, but if nobody else was leaving a tip, I felt that this was a paltry sum to pay.) Aside from which, I didn't find anything to be too terribly wrong with the service. They were just mad because it took more than a few minutes for the waitress to fetch them their copious beers. Fuck all of them. I was so embarrassed to be associated with them!!!

It reminded me of an incident in one of Bill Bryson's books, where he's somewhere in Bosnia, I think. Their money was so de-valued, that he saw a table full of German tourists paying for their bill and teasing the waiter with the money, like it was just play money, because for them it was a pittance. That is what these people reminded me of. They treated the waiter like he was subhuman, and it was very upsetting to me. I couldn't wait to leave. I hope that it was only because they were drunk, and that it won't be a recurring theme.

Anyway, more news on the apartment front. I spoke with the Aussie guy, Phil, again today. We made arrangements to meet on Monday night after my class. He was even nicer on the phone today than he was yesterday, and funnier. So, I have high hopes about our compatibility as roommates. When I told him that I would be wearing a "Fossil" backpack, he laughingly asked me how old I was, and then told me that my new nickname would have to be "Fossil". LOL So, that's an interesting start. Anyway, if the apartment is OK, I will definitely take it because I am SICK of being at this hostel.

Well, I've been on the computer FOREVER, so I'd better move on. I'm starving, and that vegetarian eatery is calling my name!! :-) Anyway, hope you're all doing well and I'll talk to you soon!!

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