O'grady is a Canadian Journeywoman, an academic
and freelance writer; she has written for The Chicago
Tribune, Canada's Globe and Mail, The Women's Review
of Books, BUST magazine, among other publications.
She is currently the Bank of Montreal Visiting Scholar
at the Women's Studies Institute, University of
Ottawa. Kathleen writes...
I attended an academic conference in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Its quiet urban landscape is tucked neatly on the Holland-German
border. Rebuilt almost entirely after the devastations
of World War II, this European centre resembles a bland,
North American city-scape and so receives little tourist
late night, after a long day of conferencing,
to skip the evening's socializing and
settle into my hotel room to watch some
Dutch television. It
felt a little like playing hooky, so I
opted for a take-away meal that I could
eat in my hotel room rather than a long,
drawn out solo-dinner in one of the many
spotted a Gyros sandwich stand
across from my hotel and laziness, more
than culinary craving, made my decision
for me. After placing my order the young
Dutch "boy-man" behind the counter (he
could not have been a day over 17) asked
me where I was from. My accent had given
me away and he was curious to know what
could bring a middle-aged Canadian woman
chatted - him with halting but accurate
English - for a brief time while he prepared
my order. He was friendly, relaxed. He
rightly chastised me for eating fast food
and not taking the time to enjoy some
of the fine dining available in his city.
I explained about wanting to go directly
to my hotel room, and pointed to it, by
way of explanation, across the street.
before my sandwich was ready, I kept the
small talk going and said to him in a
friendly, inquiring way: "So has it been
a busy night?". There
was this long, awkward pause while he
looked at me blankly. Knowing English
was his second language, I re-phrased
the question: "So, have you been busy
there was a long pause. I tried a third
time ver-r-ry slowly.
"Were ... you ...busy ... tonight?"
my young server's eyes widened. He turned
pink; a look that I can only describe
as simultaneous horror and pride crossed
of you are already laughing, but I must
admit that I was confused and had no idea
what could cause this sudden shift in
attitude. He seemed embarrassed when the
conversation had been so carefree and
casual up until now. Finally, after a
long, difficult silence he handed me my
sandwich and looked into my eyes. Shyly
even apologetic, he said to me, rather
softly: " I just started work and I have
to work all the night."
no idea what he was talking about, so
I simply nodded by way of response. I
thanked him for the sandwich and headed
to my hotel room wondering what on earth
had happened between the friendly banter
and the crimson blush.
realize too late ...
could not help but play what I had said
to him over and over again in my head
to determine a cause. And then -- illumination.
realized (all too late) that a non-native
English speaker would have heard, from
my most innocent query, the following
YOU... BUSY... TONIGHT?
it was that I both propositioned -- and
was turned down -- by a boy almost half
the Dutch thought they were forthright
and liberal in all things sexual. Not
so! I do believe I just gave Canada (...in
one boy's view, anyway) a new reputation.
first dates don't work...
figured out why first dates don't work
any better than they do. It's because
they take place in restaurants. Women
are weird and confused and unhappy about
food, and men are weird and confused and
unhappy about money, yet off they go,
the minute they meet, to where you use
money to buy food.
Source: Adair Lara, Welcome to Earth,