Thursday 9 October 2008

Embarrassing Moments - Restaurants

Eating out in a restaurant is a truly enjoyable experience, and an activity that I participate in as often as I can. But such is my life that there have been moments of pure embarrassment. I have two tales of woe for you today and in both cases I was a complete arse.

When I started out on my adult life at university I had led a very sheltered life. My parents were not keen on eating in sophisticated restaurants. Furthermore they weren’t keen on eating in any restaurants whatsoever. So when I arrived at an Indian restaurant as a na├»ve nineteen year old, I had no clue what I was letting myself in for.

Of course, as is traditional in British culture, Indian restaurants are a challenge to all young men who have been enjoying a night out. It is a ritual we all go through several times in our lives; we quaff a gutload of beer and then challenge each other to eat the ripest and hottest curry on the planet.

On this, my first visit to an Indian restaurant, beer had flowed all night and all of us were rather boisterous having imbibed several pints of ale. My memory of the night is hazy but I do recall sitting down and looking at a menu full of exotic Indian dishes, none of which I had heard of. I didn't know a Bhuna from a Rogan Josh. I had eaten curry before as my dad used to cook it regularly. I quite enjoyed it. What I didn’t know was that my dad’s curries were rather mild.

“What shall I have?” I asked innocently.

“Try a Madras,” said one of my so-called friends.

By the time my meal had arrived I was ravenous. Several pints of ale had stimulated my gastric juices to the point where I was willing to eat the tablecloth. So when I was presented with a dish of Chicken Madras I attacked it with gusto.

I think the delay was around two seconds.

“AAAARRRRGGGGHHH!” I cried and was so shocked by the burning sensation that I somehow (don’t ask me how) managed to snort Madras sauce up my nose. My entire nasal cavity and mouth were on fire. I felt as if I had snorted lava. Of course being under the influence of alcohol, a substance that increases reactions exponentially, I mutated into a desperate dervish, whirling around and howling like a crazed cat. I was blinded by tears of agony and stumbled around gasping for breath. I may have been breathing fire.

My so-called friends shrieked with laughter as I miraculously managed to totter to the nearest waiter pleading for water to relieve my anguish. The other restaurant patrons were hardened curry eaters and screamed with laughter (they were also drunk). Even the waiter was laughing as he handed over a jug of ice cold water. I think I drank the whole lot in one go.

Next day I suffered. Boy did I suffer. I had a hangover and I could taste and smell the Madras all day, giving me a constant reminder of my traumatic experience. I didn't realise just how much curry burned. When comedians joke about putting toilet paper in the fridge they are not kidding. I wanted to fill the toilet bowl with liquid nitrogen.

It took a while for me to pluck up the courage to eat Indian cuisine again.

Some years later I was in Amsterdam on business with a friend and colleague called Paul. Both us were willing to try something fresh and exotic so we opted for an Ethiopian restaurant. Ethiopian food proved to be quite unique and also quite spicy. By this time, thankfully, my palate for piquant food had evolved and I relished the dish. A wonderful Ethiopian waitress brought our food; she was wonderful, with dark brown and smooth skin, wearing a white blouse with a black lace tie and black skirt. She was delightful as were the other lovely waitresses – all dressed in an identical uniform.

About half way through the meal, I was aware that something was missing; I needed a refill for my empty beer glass.

“Fancy a beer?” I said to Paul. Before he could answer, I waved my hand in the air at the nearest waitress.

“No,” said Paul looking around.

Ignoring him I continued to wave and eventually attracted the attention of the waitress.

“Don’t!” pleaded Paul looking suddenly rather perturbed

“It’s okay,” I said. “You don’t have to have one.”

He shook his head in exasperation as the waitress approached the table.

“Can I have a beer?” I said. “What do you want, Paul?”

Paul said nothing. he simply put his head in his hands.

“You want a beer?” said the sweet waitress. “I can get one for you if you like.”

“Yes please,” I said.

She walked to the bar spoke to the barman and pointed to me.

“You idiot!” said Paul.

“I’ve only had one,” I said. “I’ll be alright.”

It was then that I noticed something odd. The waitress walked over to a table and sat down. I also noticed something else. She wasn’t wearing a tie and her blouse was a different style from the other waitresses.

She was a customer just like me.

Another real waitress bought my beer as my face reddened enough to set fire to the tablecloth.

I had to swallow my pride. I stood up and walked over to the poor woman who I had cajoled into going to the bar on my behalf.

”I’m so so sorry,” I squarked. “I mistook you for a waitress. I … I … I ….”

“It’s alright,” she smiled as her fellow diners sniggered at my expense.

I bought her a drink to prove that I wasn’t an ignorant arse (just a stupid buffoon). Paul, being a good friend and colleague spent the remainder of the evening telling me what a moron I was. He delighted in telling the tale to complete strangers in bars and of course, my work colleagues upon our return to Manchester. Thanks, Paul!

Sadly, I haven’t learned from these mistakes. There are other incidents that make me want to crawl into a hole and seek sympathy from woodland creatures. I will save those for another post.
In the meantime, Mrs PM is taking me out for a pleasant meal tomorrow night as a belated birthday celebration. Let’s hope she realizes what she is letting herself in for. There’s plenty of scope for embarrassment in the old dog yet.

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