Well, I came up with a plan. And though I found the whole evening to be rather silly, Theresa is happy and I have to count it as wildly successful.
I have been branching out in Hyderabad little by little. Jann and Darryl have taken me to some pretty spectacular Indian restaurants inside the city. I’ve been discovering some amazing dishes, and have learned that the paramount of Indian refinement is in service. And when I say service, I mean, service. You come up to a fancy restaurant and there is someone usually wearing a crazy hat who is there to open the door for you. A separate someone to seat you. A separate someone to pull out your chair. A separate someone to pour your water. Another someone to take your order. Two other people stand there while you eat, refilling your plate from family style serving dishes in the center of your table, as needed. Its overwhelming, to say the least.
So I figured: this is a good plan. I will order a taxi and take Theresa, Selene and James out to swanky Banjhara Hills and we will dine at one of these super fancy Indian restaurants. And since this time I am the host and they are my guests, they will have to accept my hospitality (and the 8 different waiters), and that will be wonderful. Awesome.
Its been hard for me to meaningfully and appropriately show my appreciation for the amazing people here in my India life. The small and thoughtful gestures of inclusion, compassion and warmth really make all the difference in the world for me when I am so far from home. So many days I desperately want to contribute back. But there’s language barriers, and sensitive etiquette I don’t really understand all the time, and class concerns or whatever—and at the end of the day, I certainly don’t want to alienate anyone. So I smile a lot, and make an effort to communicate my very genuine gratitude. So THIS! This is an opportunity that I was really excited about. I don’t really get out a whole lot, and its not very often that there would be something in Hyderabad that I could expose Theresa to. Very pleased with myself for being such a savvy American, I called for a driver to pick up our foursome that evening, and told Theresa to ready her favorite sari because we were going out in style.
Theresa was very excited about this, and was all a flutter about our special outing. I had mentioned three of the different fancy restaurants I knew of, and gave a brief description so she could help me decide which would be best suited for Selene and James. Then, with a shy tilt of her head and a slight fluttering of her fingers she asked, “do you think we could go to that special American restaurant everyone talks about?”
It took me about 2 seconds to realize she was referring to TGIFridays. Oh yes. Potato skins and red polyester waiters and cheap beer. That TGIFridays.
Now, you may remember me referencing that TGIFridays is the new hotspot in downtown Hyderabad. Really. That’s where the Tollywood stars go to see and been seen, and I see it pictured in background of the entertainment section in the newspaper. Its young and hip and very popular.
My grandiose idea of Theresa being waited on hand and foot by a small army of waiters, was rapidly deflating. But seeing the excitement in her face, and the opportunity to share something with her that was exciting, glamorous and so familiar to my western upbringing—how could we go anywhere else? So yes. I called TGIFridays and made a reservation for 4. Theresa was thrilled, and immediately went to tell Selene and James about our very exciting evening so they could all get ready.
A few hours later our cab arrived and the four of us headed into the big city, specifically into Bhajara Hills, which looks like downtown Los Angeles. Even though its only a 40 minute drive away, its like a whole different world from Kukatpally. But that’s India for you: some of the world’s most advanced technology and universities, and some of the world’s most destitute poverty and ignorance. But I digress, back to the story.
So the cab pulls up to the plaza where TGIFriday’s is (for my Clevelanders: think Legacy Village or Crocker Park), and I lead the way. Theresa and Selene were giggling like schoolgirls and James asked if we could take the moving stairs. Apparently, it was a very big deal when the escalator was installed and James, Selene and Theresa had all never ridden one. So that was exciting.
We got seated at the restaurant, which looks exactly like every TGIFridays ever. Lots of rock n roll paraphernalia on the walls, Cricket games shown on mounted TVs, Beatles playing over the sound system, servers dressed in familiar red polos with black pants. They were even giving out helium balloons at the door. Three menus unfolded and I watched as Theresa and company looked over glossy photos of very foreign looking dinner entrees. Finally, Theresa said to me, “will you order for all of us?”
Uh, sure. Obviously there are no burgers on the menu, and I didn’t want to make Theresa, James or Selene uncomfortable by ordering something that you would eat with silverware (other restaurant patrons were using silverware, and looking very much like my mom on the rare occasions she tries to use chopsticks) In the end, I ordered smoothies with colorful umbrellas, mozzarella sticks, potato skins and quesadillas. I picked out chicken fingers with fries, popcorn shrimp with onion rings, and some fish and chips. How’s that for American gourmet?!
Theresa was just tickled. She kept asking me to talk about what all the different foods were, and then asked me if I ate them at home with my family and if this is what we did at Christmastime. I gave up trying to explain that we don’t typically gather around a giant plate of French fries for special meals at our table and just went with it. So after I would talk about one of the dishes, Theresa would tell Selene whatever I had just said (Selene doesn’t speak English) and then ask me another series of questions. Then I ordered ice cream brownie sundaes for dessert, which were a huge hit, naturally even though the spoons were a minor obstacle. Oh ice cream, how I miss you.
When it was all said and done I had the enormous remainders of food boxed up so Theresa could take them home. Then when I paid the bill Theresa made a motion to contribute and I smiled her and explained that she and her company were my guests and she just beamed with appreciation. I hailed a cab and we headed back home, Theresa excitedly recapping dinner the whole way.
Its really become the common theme for my life in India: nothing ever plays out the way I think it will, but everything turns out just as it should. Even though Theresa only had one waiter, I am definitely considering tonight a smashing success.