Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Quite a few moons ago I went to work in Switzerland for a while over the Summer.
It was a pretty good job waitressing in a hotel and apart from occasions when we were invaded by mad old ladies, it was normally just the same as any other hotel that reminded one of Fawlty Towers.
Misunderstandings due to language were rife as between the staff, five different languages were spoken, the most common one being English as everybody there wanted to learn.
This was a pity for me as I'd mostly gone there to improve my German linguistic skills, but found that Schweizerdeutsch (while was the local lingo) was very different from High German which I was used to speaking.
Add to the mix a smattering of French which was the only way the boss and the Portuguese girl who did the laundry and helped out at the bar could communicate, Austrian spoken by the head chef and waitress*, and Albanian from the sous chef and remainder of the kitchen staff, and you can imagine how many times things could possibly go wrong.
When we weren't being rushed off our feet or keeping guests entertained, we had the use of the TV room which also had a video player and I asked my mother if she'd be so kind as to get me a set of the Fawlty Towers videos so that the rest of the staff could watch them.
They arrived and despite lack of subtitles, everyone on the staff understood all too well what was going on and for the rest of my stay there would be at least one impression of Manuel done per diem.
Unfortunately, the videos also had a negative effect on one occasion.
We'd just watched the episode wherein Basil Fawlty has terrible difficulty in opening a bottle of wine when some guests came in for a very expensive meal with all the trimmings which included a very expensive bottle of wine, the sort that you keep in the best part of the cellar and don't wipe the dust off.
The waitress in charge of the guest's table saw the price of the bottle they'd ordered and froze.
I found her clutching the price list and staring at the bottle while shaking in terror at the thought of everything going wrong as in the video.
Even more unfortunately, apart from the kitchen staff, I was the only other person on duty at the time, so gingerly taking the bottle I went in to bat.
I smiled sweetly as I showed them the bottle and then placed it on the table next to them while I got out my trusty bottle opener.
I then began to open the bottle and was doing just fine until the cork stuck fast.
I'm not sure if I whimpered out loud or not, but as I tugged at the cork I felt all eyes from the party turn on me.
Trying not to panic I said that I was just going to check on something and took the bottle back to the bar to see if anyone could help.
Alas, the only person around was one of the chaps from the kitchen who had only been in Switzerland for a week, and the only language we had in common was to day 'Good day' and 'How are you?' which didn't really help.
He looked at me and mimed a 'What's wrong?' and I mimed back that the bottle was stuck.
He then offered to take the bottle from me and I thought he was simply going to give the opener a good strong tug, but instead he said something in Albanian and gave me a huge smile, before cracking the top off the bottle on the bar.
Granted, he did crack the neck off the bottle in one very clean break, and yes, the cork was now out of the bottle allowing the wine to pour out freely, but I was pretty certain that the guests who were spending about a month of our wages on the bottle wouldn't be too pleased to know that.
He stood there smiling and giving me the 'thumbs up' as the other waitress and the boss came over to see what the noise had been.
I think I was still standing there crying about ten minutes later while the boss managed to sort out the problem and found the guests another bottle of equal value, which she served to the guests herself.
The boss did see the funny side of the events after we showed her the episode of Fawlty Towers, and the new chap in the kitchen got a reprimand translated from German to Albanian and never went near the wine again.

*Two different people, btw.