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Which brings to mind…

So, yesterday’s little rant about man-sneezes has brought up (out of the dark recesses of my memory) a truly crawl-under-the-table-and-tunnel-out-of-the-restaurant incident I endured along with four traveling buddies (Mike, Bill, Heidi, and Thomas) many moons ago…in the far away land of Shanghai (which is a fabulous destination if every you get the chance).

I was 18…first time traveling abroad…we had just finished touring Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong…and so were taking a couple of days in Shanghai, where we found, to our delight, a real live Hilton hotel. Gorgeous, btw. We were starving…really wanting something like french fries which, amazingly enough, were a little difficult to come by in China at that time. So the five of us trooped in and politely waited to be seated in the utterly beautiful Atrium Cafe. Menus were passed around as someone *wink, wink* started a dialog about the merits of french fries vs onion rings, which was better and why. It was decided that they were just about even in popularity, though onion rings had an edge up in the fact that they are inherently more american simply because they lacked the word ‘french’ in the title. Whatever.

Anyway…it would be appropriate at this point in the story to mention that society in the Far East is extremely polite. People (both men and women) talk more softly, move more quietly and all around are just elegant in general. And then there was us: The loud, obnoxious tourists, complete with fanny packs and white sneakers (hey! It was the 80’s after all!). Awww, we weren’t all that bad, just slightly uncouth. Not completely hick, but uh…there was a touch of ‘hayseed unsmoothness’ present…you know, typical of most americans! *grin* Which sadly, when placed alongside the shear graciousness of that region…well, we did tend to stick out slightly. Moving on…

So there we were, perusing the menu in this upper-class indoor garden…sounds of a piano lightly floating down from some obscure source above us in the open air cafe, wait staff walking to and fro quietly whispering the daily special to a business lunch here, a romantic couple there…just a very chic and relaxing environment in which to sit, unpack and rummage through our collective thoughts and just…*slow inhale*…breeeeeathe…*slow exhale*. It was in this exquisite peace that quite suddenly and without warning of any kind, Bill sneezed. Now…not that this is particularly relevant, Bill is a firefighter, and he’s not a little man. He’s pretty much the size of a bull (in a good, Brawny-Man kind of way) and he doesn’t do anything small, least of all, sneezing. And when he sneezed – which he did loudly and with much gusto, and even though he did do it inside his napkin…when he sneezed – it echoed.

Now we get to the crawl-under-the-table-and-tunnel-out-of-the-restaurant part. Not only did his sneeze echo…but now we had the attention of the table next to us…and the table next to them…and so on. All talking ceased, all heads turned towards us. The piano stopped playing…mid-song! Even the wait staff stopped mid-stride and turned to look at us. And everyone of them had a look of shocked disbelief splayed across their face – jaws had dropped all over the place. You would have thought that he had jumped up on the table, stripped completely nekkid and proceeded to do the Chicken Dance instead of merely sneezing! Poor Bill.

Though this humiliation must have lasted only a few seconds…it felt like bloody YEARS!!! All eyes – from the cafe to the lobby to the floors above were looking down on us…the uncouth, red-necked, no mannered, how-could-they-DO-that, tactless, amateur, american tourists. I’m pretty sure that’s exACTly what they were thinking…only, you know, in Mandrin. I’m also very sure we had permanently cemented in their minds every american tourist stereotype they had ever half-believed until then. We did have a great laugh about it…much later.

Maybe this incident has scarred me for life and that’s why I have such a low tolerance for FIG and his incessant need to display his sneezing abilities *shudder*…lol. It’s possible.

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