mardi, octobre 31, 2006

PR Tag Team

The hotel where we stayed in Turkey was one of those French-speaking all-inclusive club hotels which included airfare, accommodations, food and drinks in the price we paid up front.

I was apprehensive.

I expected to get annoyed because I prefer mingling with the locals, I don't like being told what, where and how on vacation and I especially don't like group-related activities. Invaribly, it makes me feel like I've regressed to my childhood and am stuck in a Brownies troupe meeting in some dank church basement being told by someone else's mother - never as cool or glamorous as mine - that I was supposed to glue macaroni on a square of burlap and give it to my parents as a present. This never quite made sense to me.

One afternoon at the club hotel, we were finishing up lunch when a member of the group activities staff stopped at our table and interrupted us with a dry bonjour aimed somewhere above our heads. Her job was to entertain, enthuse and convince as many French speaking guests as possible to partake in the activities offered. It took me a moment to realize she was talking to us, and expected a response.

"Bonjour," we replied cautiously.

"Coffee game at ten past?" she asked, still looking above our heads and shifting her weight from one leg to the other impatiently. Enthusiasm was not her strong suit.

"Excuse me?" I said. I had no idea what she was talking about, and her French was hard for me to understand.

"Coffee game. At ten past two. At the activity pool. You coming?" This time she actually looked at me, apparently to ascertain if I looked as stupid as I sounded.

"Coffee game?" I repeated, still having no idea what she could possibly mean. I understood the word 'coffee', and I clearly heard 'game', but putting the two together meant nothing to me.

Handsome was observing the scene and trying hard not to laugh, but realized he needed to come to my rescue.

"That's right, you aren't familiar with how all this works," he said with a huge grin. He put his hand on mine and signaled to the activity girl that he would take care of it. She left with a shrug and with what I expect was an expression of sympathy for Handsome for being saddled with such a dunce.

"Coffee game? What the hell is she talking about?" I asked.

"It's a game, like trivia, where you gather around the pool and play nicely with the other guests," he explained, still grinning widely at the expression on my face. Handsome worked for Club Med for years. If there's someone who knows how things work at an all-inclusive club hotel, it's him.

"To win a coffee?" I asked incredulously. Brewed coffee was included in the all-inclusive package, but espressos were not. This could only mean that in order to encourage you to mingle with the few other French speakers, and to avoid paying a mere 2 euros for an espresso, you would go play trivia by the activity pool. And possibly win. An espresso.

I was slightly annoyed.

At dinner later on, we had made the rounds of the fresh cheeses, olives, vegetables and fresh baked pide bread and were trying to find a table on the outside terrace, our hands full with plates and glasses. The only one available was a four-top with another couple already seated and two other seats available. We decided to go for it anyway.

"Excuse us, may we?" I asked in French, gesturing at the table. It was obvious they weren't Turkish.

"Of course," the woman replied as she looked up at us and smiled. She looked like a prettier version of Marianne Pearl.

We sat down and quietly began eating and talking in low tones so as not to disturb them.

"Have you been here long?" the woman asked after a while.

"Oh, we've been here a week now," I said, "and you?"

"We got here last night," she replied. They looked a little tired, and if it had been anything like our arrival at four in the morning, I could understand why.

"Is this your first time in Turkey?" Handsome asked, looking at them both.

"Yes, but we won a free week's vacation, and this was the only club that had space during the time we could come," she said. It was obvious Turkey had not been on their top ten list.

For some reason, I was slightly annoyed.

"Well if there is one thing you absolutely have to do while you're here," Handsome volunteered, "it's to go visit Ephesus. It's amazing how well-preserved the ruins are."

They didn't seem too interested. We continued nonetheless to enthusiastically encourage them to take advantage of being in a country with such a rich history, gorgeous landscapes, friendly people and good food. At the end of the meal, we wished them a good stay and told them we'd see them around.

The next day, we went on another excursion to visit the ruins of Didyma, Priene and Millet with a small group. Luckily, they were interesting and well traveled people and did not have the ridiculous expectation that everything should be like at home. There was even a man who had taken great pains to learn some basic Turkish, which admittedly impressed me. He was nice enough to be pretend to be impressed by my similar efforts. The group spent the whole day together, and by the end of it, I was worn out by the sun and the effort of being sociable.

We returned to the hotel, and retired to an outside cafe table for a last tea before aperitifs and dinner. We spotted a couple we had met during the day's excursion who seemed to be looking for a table, so we invited them over. I liked them. She was an elegant, very attractive woman in her late 50's, and he was tall and trim and had a full head of thick snow white hair. They had never once been condescending or critical. I especially appreciated that when she asked me questions about my impressions of living in France as an American, she always looked me in the eye, and did not make me feel as though she already knew what I would say and was just trying to prove herself correct. Most importantly, she never made me feel like a Hottentot Venus.
We chatted amiably about travels and cultural differences, and eventually went our separate ways to dinner.

Afterwards, Handsome and I had planned to go into town to have after-dinner drinks and smoke a houka in a bar we had noticed. After dinner, I went up to the room to change, leaving Handsome waiting in the lobby bar.

When I came back down, he was waiting for me at the elevator.

"Um, I ran into the couple from last night," he said anxiously, "and they asked what we were doing tonight, so I told them."

"And?" I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"So they asked if they could come along." He smiled facetiously wide.

"And you said yes!" I said, mimicking the smile and rubbing my hands together in fake enthusiasm.

"Uh huh!" he said. He turned serious. "Do you really mind?"

"Oh what the hell," I said, "let's show those people a good time."

"That's my girl!" Handsome replied, sticking out his arm for me to take.

But I was slightly annoyed.

We walked with the other couple from the hotel to the bar, making polite chit chat along the way. Inevitably Handsome ended up walking next to the guy, while I walked next to the woman and asked her questions about herself and her husband. It turned out she had just learned she was pregnant, which was enough conversational fodder to last through almost the whole evening. The husband seemed rather lifeless and monosyllabic, and I was grateful for the gender divide. In normal circumstances, it annoys the hell out of me.

At the end of the outing, we walked them back to the hotel and said our goodbyes in the lobby, wishing them again a nice stay.

"Man," I exclaimed, slumping in one of the lobby chairs with exhaustion, "we should totally get paid for that shit!"

"We fucking rock," he agreed, shaking my hand in congratulations, "and this hotel should totally hire us to help them with their PR, entertain their guests, and bring them out of their shells."

"We are a veritable coffee game and activity girl," I replied with a smirk.

Aucun commentaire: