| Kathleen 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.
At the time of writing she was 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 traffic...
late night, after a long day of conferencing, I decided
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 local cafes.
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 to Nijmegen.
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
there was a long pause. I tried a third time ver-r-ry slowly.
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
I am confused...
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
had 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.
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. I understood!
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 my age.
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, Mom, (1992)