Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ivan

As I was heading out of the hotel last night for a walk and a little fresh air, I met one of my pals going out to do the same thing. The hotel manager was waving her arms and talking about the gym and offering to show him the benefits of the place but I interceded and offered to take a spin on the jogging trail.

It was getting dark and pretty wet so we cut the adventure short. Besides the waning light, the trails were so overgrown that I really had a hard time figuring out where I’d been before when it dawned on me that I was here last in March, before the all-consuming Irish vegetation reclaimed the open areas. So went back up the hill, walked around the back of the place and went into the pub to get a bit of dinner.

I was not eating so I ordered a pint and watched while he consumed a nice looking Irish lamb shank. Judging from his name tag, our waiter's name was Ivan and he spoke as though he was from somewhere in eastern Europe, a not uncommon thing given that many of the hotels here bring people over from that region to fill these kinds of service jobs. This hotel chain in general moves people around quite a bit, and I had some fun with this when I checked in the other day.

The young woman at the desk was clearly from China so I asked her, in Chinese, if she a Chinese person. She looked up, completely flummoxed and said, “What!?!” I repeated my question in English and she replied in the positive, so I told her, again in Chinese, that I spoke a little bit of her language. She gave a giant smile and asked me if I had been to her country and I replied more than a dozen times. She asked where and told her and she informed me that she was from Beijing and that since she could understand my Chinese, she would not have to check me in using English. Another funny transcontinental moment.

But back to Ivan. While we were eating and chatting, he stopped by and asked how the food and beer were. We replied in the positive and he asked us where we were from. We told him America and he said he thought so based on our accents. I replied that when speaking English, we really didn’t have one and he agreed, commenting that he was now capable of singling out the British, the Irish, the Scots and the South Africans. He told me he was from Romania, confirming my earlier assumption and asked me if I knew where that was. I said yes, having read my fair share about the region, most recently in Robert D. Kaplan’s "Eastward to Tartary" and he smiled and replied that most Americans had never heard of his country. I told him I agreed, that most Americans were indeed geographically ignorant. He then went on to share an anecdote about our President and how when Mr. Bush visited Romania, he told the gathered audience that he was very glad to be visiting Budapest. He then broke out into a big laugh and said, “He didn’t even know that Budapest was the capital of Hungary!”

I asked Ivan not to judge me by my President.

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