Saturday, 14 May 2022 | Krishan Kalra | Dehradun
It was my first visit to Europe. My wife and son had gone earlier to the USA and we were to meet in London. My first encounter as a ‘country hick come to town’ took place right at Heathrow. With nothing better to do, while waiting for the transatlantic flight, I ambled over to the BOAC (now BA) counter and asked for reconfirmation of our seats back to Delhi. The young lady was polite and efficient; she ‘appreciated’ my desire to make sure about our return even before the other two had arrived. Four days later we were back at the airport – for our flight to Frankfurt – and I thought there was no harm reconfirming once again. The girl at the counter looked at her monitor and with unconcealed annoyance asked me as to why I needed a second reconfirmation within four days! I was aghast – instead of the expected ‘appreciation’ she really felt upset just because I didn’t trust them.
The next bloomer came when I asked someone at Geneva station if the 0833 train to Renens was running ‘on time’. “Of course sir, Swiss trains are never late,” was his polite rebuff. Almost the same thing happened when I phoned Swissair for a flight change and enquired if I should visit them to get my ticket endorsed! “Whatever for, sir- it’s already on my computer,” was the cold response.
As we proceeded through Europe, better things were to come. As house guests of a German couple in Wurzburg we were taken by them to another German family for dinner. Every one arrived within five minutes of the appointed time and the welcome champagne and orange juice flutes were drained within the next ten. We were escorted to the buffet table and the hostess came round asking everyone for their drinks. “Whisky – water,” said I without batting an eyelid.
Her discomfort was apparent; she tapped her forehead for a moment, snapped her fingers and said “yes, I am sure we have some in the store”. Before I knew she was off and came back after several minutes with a big smile on her face and an old half bottle of black label in hand. “I told you, I would find it,” was her triumphant declaration. It was only then that yours truly realised that everyone else was drinking wine; red-white, dry-sweet, German-California, the choice was unbelievable. I was the only fool with a whisky!
The piece-de-resistance came on our last night in Wurzburg. Our hosts – both dentists – decided to take us out for the evening. We were to first see their brand new surgery, then go for dinner and finally visit a beer parlour. After we had admired the gleaming new surgery the good doc opened a cupboard, took out glasses and a bottle of schnapps, poured for everyone and bid us to drink. Being my first time with schnapps I did exactly like my host – down the hatch in one gulp! The next room was his wife’s surgery and we repeated the toast. By now I was feeling ‘rather good’. Dinner included some wine and I began to feel ‘even better’.
The beer parlour was something else. An old rambling house with half a dozen interconnected barns; some big, some small – all full of people drinking. We found an empty table in the biggest barn and settled down in the middle of some 100 beer guzzling Germans in assorted groups – each engrossed in its own and oblivious of the others. Soon enough big tankards of foaming draft beer came. By now I was beyond all reasoning; the tankard was quickly emptied with bravado – only to find it refilled again…and again.
It was then that I noticed a lovely paper bag on the table containing some cheese straws. I don’t know what came over me – I emptied the bag, blew it like a balloon and burst it, just like we used to do as kids. The silence was deafening the atmosphere became tense and over 200 eyes were focused on our table. Suddenly my host caught my hand, helped me stand on my chair and said something rapidly with a big smile on his face. Immediately the pin-drop silence turned into an uproar. Everyone was shouting and laughing, many came up and shook my hand; some women even hugged and kissed me. I was told that they were greeting me on my birthday! Someone broke into a song and almost everyone joined.
I was dumbfounded and just kept on stupidly smiling and saying ‘danke-shun’. It was much later in the car that I sought and got an explanation – the loud report of the bag burst had sounded like a gun shot. Germans being dead scared of gun shots became panicky and anything could have happened, if my host hadn’t come up with this brilliant ‘birthday’ idea.
(A veteran of the corporate world, the author now does only voluntary work in various spheres)