Kurt Vonnegut was right, be careful who you pretend to be

They seemed awkward from the start. It was as if they didn’t know how to act, where to stand or even what to say. They seemed pretty unsure of themselves. I pegged them as travelers.

Her ascot and his Panama hat were surefire giveaways as were the accents, ones I couldn’t quite place. British? Irish? Australian? South African? It was hard to tell.

“She’s an art professor at university and I am an antiques dealer,” he said to a couple sitting next to them.

“I’ll have a Pimm’s Cup,” he announced a second later.

Next followed some exacting instructions on how to make a Pimm’s Cup.

“Yeah, Pimm’s and ginger ale, I know,” I said after the third sentence of explanation with the potential for many more to follow.

“And a cucumber slice,” he said.

“Of course,” I replied.

Having secured his Pimm’s Cup, he turned his attention to the couple next to them. Workout gear and baseball caps on a Friday night at a fine restaurant bar had them solidly placed as from “around here.”

“We have been traveling for quite some time,” he told them.

“Where are you guys from?” asked the woman in yoga pants.

“I am from Brazil,” she answered.

“And I am from Europe,” he replied.

“We love the States,” she said before the usually attired couple could ask what part of Europe.

“Where have you been?” asked Ms. Yoga Pants.

“All over,” he said.

“Are you on vacation?” asked Mr. Running Shorts.

“She’s on holiday, but I am working.”

“Working on what?”

“A book about art.”

“What kind of art?”

“All kinds.”

Dinner reservations being educated guesses — as opposed to explicit contracts — meant that the local couple was interacting for about 10 minutes longer than they had expected. And 10 minutes of playing nice was about all they could, or would, muster.

A complaint that didn’t expedite anything except perhaps bad feelings was followed by the hostess with menus. It was doubtful that the two events were connected in any way, save timing. But people who need to complain also need to believe that complaining helps.

Another couple in golf shorts sat down beside the couple on holiday.

Drinks pulled me in a different direction. Revenue makes its demands known, one way or another. But when I returned, the conversation seemed about the same.

“We are looking for art pieces while we are on holiday,” said the woman in the ascot.

“That sounds fantastic,” said the man in golf shorts.

“Do you collect art?” asked his wife.

“We have a little shop back home,” said the woman in the ascot.

The out-of-towners regaled the new couple with tales of their adventures: Greece, Spain and South America. They had been all over the world. Anywhere trains, planes and automobiles went, so had they.

He had written books, and she had sung opera. He had collected classic cars, and she had dressed movie stars.

“Wow,” said the golf shorts couple, practically in unison.

“What movie stars?” asked Ms. Golf Shorts.

“Mainly European ones,” replied Ms. Ascot. “You probably wouldn’t recognize them.”

“Try me.”

Several foreign sounding names followed.

“You are right, I don’t know them.”

Yet another dinner reservation fetch was made, and yet another couple sat down. Busy bars are, well, busy.

The only businesses complaining these days about the new economy are the ones that aren’t doing well. Travel will teach you that the hospitality business exists everywhere, no matter what. It might look different, and act differently, but it is always there.

“I am from Argentina,” said Ms. Ascot. “So, I know all about beef.”

Just because you are from somewhere doesn’t mean anything. Being born in Kentucky doesn’t mean that you know anything about bourbon. Surely there are people from Italy who know nothing about Italian wine, just as there are people in Napa who know nothing about California wine. You learn by doing and by learning, not by being from somewhere.

“We’re from Napa, so we really know wine,” the couple said.

All evenings must come to an end, both the bad and good ones. So, when it was time for that ending, I asked a question.

“A conta?” I asked.

“What?” asked the travelers.

“La cuenta?”


“The bill?” I said, translating.

“Oh, yeah.”

Leaving me with these thoughts

• “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things,” wrote Henry Miller.

• Be the best “you” that you can be when you travel. Because really, who’s going to know?

•  Are we the people we think we are? Or are we the people other people think we are?

• “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote.

• I think I need a Pimm’s Cup now.