Playing chicken

Years ago when I lived in Germany, my mom came to visit me for a couple of weeks. In an effort to expand her horizons and feed my wanderlust, we ended up in Belgium for a few days. (How that happened is a whole other story.) After luxuriating in the hotel bath followed by a jaunt around the Grand-Place in Brussels, we decided it was time for dinner. We ducked onto a side street and began to evaluate restaurant storefronts as we cruised along with other pedestrians.

Mind you, since neither of us spoke French or Flemish, “evaluating” meant assessing the looks of each place, not reading the menu.

About halfway down the street, a couple of employees standing in the doorway of a reasonable looking restaurant started a conversation with us. After they realized we couldn’t speak French, they continued their entreaties in broken English. “Come in to our place. Is good! You like seafood? We have the best!”

Even though I love seafood, my mother doesn’t, and she expressed this to our eager new friends. “No. No fish! I don’t like fish,” she said, throwing in a dramatic shake of her head for good measure.

“No problem!” said one. “You like rooster? We have rooster!”

Thinking we had found a solution for both of our palates, my mom and I let them lead us to a table inside. We ordered, talked, observed the other patrons, and talked some more. In short order, our food was presented: the fish I had ordered, and raw oysters for my mother.

My mom sat in stunned silence as I tried to contain my snickering. I don’t think there is anything she likes less than raw oysters. I could practically see her fighting back the gag reflex as she looked at her plate.

In a rare moment of good daughter-dom, I recalled the waiter and tried to explain our plight. With some creative language and a bit of arm flapping, we finally made him understand that my mom wanted chicken. After a moment of consternation, he told us it was no problem.

As we resumed our conversation, I noticed another restaurant employee speed out the front door. Ten minutes later he was back, and three minutes after that our waiter placed a steaming plate of chicken in front of my mom. To my utter amazement, I realized that these guys were so eager to satisfy their customer that instead of telling us they didn’t have chicken, they bought it from another restaurant down the street. I don’t remember anything about my own food that evening, but I don’t think I have ever appreciated another meal quite as much.

Words matter, but so do actions.

I apologize for my lengthy silence. My work travels got the better of me, and I should have given my readers a heads-up!

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