Sunday, February 10, 2013

The International Sophisticate Known as the Squashist

My last, incomprehensible-to-all-but-a-few blog reminded me of a funny event that actually happened last November. 

As part of my job I was attending a rheumatology conference, and about half the attendees at this particular meeting tend to be international. We had a booth set up and were handing out free copies of our rheumatology publication, and at the time I was manning the booth, engaging in small talk as people came by to grab a copy. In the booth with me was one of the owners of the company where I work. 

A crowd of rheumatologists makes its way to our booth. First up were three animated French physicians, which I knew right away because the nametags showed both names and hometowns. We exchanged a few pleasantries in French. At one point I had lived in France for about 4 months, though I was told more than once at the time that I sounded like I was from Quebec, which I took as mild criticism. But it made the visiting rheumatologists happy to hear their own language, however inelegantly expressed.

A few Americans wandered by, and then, lo and behold, visitors from Lund, Sweden approach. I couldn't let an opportunity like this go by, so spoke to them in their native tongue, trying my best to get the 'sju' sound correct, which is very hard to do for English speakers. But they were happy at my attempt, and walked away all smiles. 

The owner, watching in the booth, said, "Wow, that's impressive. Who knew you had all these hidden talents!", and then got back to what he was doing, which was going over financial numbers.

Then, lo and behold, two Egyptian physicians come by, both women. Well, I can't speak their language, but I thought we could certainly talk squash! "Hello, doctors, I see you are from Cairo, home of the greatest squash players on the planet!"

"Ah yes, squash," one of the women said. There was something about her face that looked upset, like she had just tasted something that was surprisingly bitter. "You know, squash was played and supported by Mubarak, and it would be difficult indeed to find anyone in Cairo who loves that man." Her friend nodded enthusiastically. "And so we hate squash!" She kind of half-smiled, grabbed a copy of our publication, and moved off. 

"Oh great, nice going," said the owner in the booth. "Now you went and pissed them off!"

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