Swigging with Scots

Posted on February 8, 2008


Another day, another carefully averted hangover. My usual method of doing so is to throw up before I go to bed and take an aspirin; then wake up at 4:30 am and drink way more water and check my mail. I tell you, fool proof. The internet has a therapeutic quality at that hour.

The hangover was nearly sustained as a result of imbibing approximately 1.25 bottles of wine last night. My friends and I had agreed to meet at a restaurant in Maadi, the Cellar Door Bistro (easily my new favourite restaurant in Cairo) at 8 pm to celebrate the return of one of our friends, Helly Welly. I rolled in at 8:30 having made provision for traditional Egyptian lateness, to find I was the first one there. I called and railed at them only to be treated to weak-ass excuses as if it’s so okay that they are always sickeningly late. Three people said they weren’t even going to show up – and they are the only three who are usually punctual. The others had counted on them to keep me company while they faffed about and tickled each other, or whatever it is guys do to be jaw-droppingly late. So I sat there, and time dragged on. First, I ordered a carafe of wine. Then I perused the menu with the attention to detail usually reserved for invasive surgery, and picked what I wanted. Then I spoke to the owner/chef for a while, who turned out to be cool. We discussed at length his “Baladi” collection of T-shirts with advertising logos from Egyptian history on them. I looked at some and inquired as to size availability. I would LOVE one that had the Ottoman rolling papers logo on it. Proceeds go to art classes for refugees, and the cotton is of fine quality. I stretched the conversation out as long as I could – introducing myself and everything – but eventually he had to go about his business and there I was, sitting by myself, in the middle of a long empty table for twelve again.

Drink drink drink. I watched the people at the table across from me, at which were seated three obese middle aged Scots, two men and a woman. One of them was complaining to the chef that his cheesecake was too cold. I was indignant on his behalf – although no one complains at restaurants more than me, the service at that place is excellent and the food delicious and they really made a big to-do when he could just have waited for a minute or two. I saw no diminishment of the speed at which the cheesecake hastened down his gullet, myself. As I was staring they called over to me, noting that I’d been waiting for a while, and had I called my friends? So I called one again, and even though I lowered my voice I think “motherfuckers” “inconsiderate dickheads” and “cunts” made their way over to the Scots (or so I surmised by their raised eyebrows). They invited me to join them, and I figured I might as well make the most of what was now my 45-minute wait. They turned out, as expected given the neighbourhood, to be in the oil and gas business and had only been there for a few weeks. I actually gave them my card because I’m a sell out, doncha know. Then we had the usual conversation: how come I have good English? It always surprises me that people don’t seem to know about the success of their own colonial history. You’d think people would put two and two together and know that the more privileged classes of any country are usually educated in western schools. Then about my job: the usual faint surprise at the “serious” nature of my employment. That’s when the card came out – having done so much oil and gas work I figure it can’t hurt to do some more. And then of course onto Cairo and Egypt. They always say the same thing: “Cairo…it’s really something else.” I usually concur that it’s both the best and the worst place in the world, simultaneously. They usually respond by making guarded remarks about how MORE bad than good it is, without resorting to any overt offence, and indeed one said something mild about how it was going to take him a while to get into what (he was sure) was the good side. We had a discussion about traffic, and how vehicle tariffs resulted in the proliferation of old, broken down cars to remain on the road. I agreed that if cars were cheaper, people would be able to replace battered ones, but opined that the government couldn’t just take away the source of people’s livelihoods. I was surprised when one said to me: “Tough. And when will you people learn how to drive? There need to be rules!” Awkward hush from other two hosts.

“Well, commentators are basically divided on what comes first, the rule of law or economic prosperity,” I said. Hurriedly, the other man who was clearly mortified said: “Yes that makes sense! What a good point!”

The first man shook his head and launched into a diatribe on how compared to other African nations, Egypt enjoyed much more rule of law evidenced by its comparatively low levels of corruption, and therefore we should have our shit together more. At this point my friends sheepishly walked in, did a double take to find me sitting with three large pink persons, and waved politely.

“Well, I’d better go join them,” I said.

“I don’t know why I didn’t spot you earlier,” said Racist McPrejudice. “I’ve always had an eye for a bonny lass.” My head exploded in a million little red particles of joy at having actually heard this phrase being used by a real live person. Outwardly I just smiled politely and thanked them, but it was the best thing ever. It nearly made up for being made to wait for an hour for the vile worms. I was absolutely blitzed as well by then and in full unstoppable disastrous verbal diarrhoea mode. Serves them right, the festering shits.

Note: The events above happened on Wednesday night, so actually last night I watched the match in a much more salubrious environment than the first: a bar. It’s amazing how beer can make any sporting event deeply entertaining especially if your team wins and the camera zooms in on their delectable buttocks a lot.