There were two Turkish restaurants in town. They stood side by side, on the gravel road that hugged the north side of the lake, and were owned by the same man.
The restaurant on the left served the same food as the restaurant on the right, and the owner tended to serve whichever crowd was largest, which would often force diners at the neglected restaurant to migrate to the busier one in hopes of being served.
The service was notoriously slow, the food notoriously delicious, and on a particular December evening a hungry pack of travelers had gathered to partake in shared plates of fried eggplant and manti with thick yogurt and pilaf and beer, endless bottles of dirt cheer beer in dusty bottles.
They sat on the floor on plush pillows, and friends trickled in one by one, in twos and fours, until the dimly-lit restaurant with the low ceiling was filled with foreign tramps and vagabonds – the British guy from India, the brunette writing the travel book, the American woman who’d cycled South America, the Ecuadorian couple who’d just trekked the Annapurna circuit, and the spritely 20-year old in her sixth month of solo-cycling the planet.
Soon locals mixed with tourists and there was no rhyme or reason to the cozy haven, which spun with an energy the romantics among them would later describe as magical.
The fragrance of incense mixed with the scent of minced meat and sizzling vegetables. Candles served as the only source of light save a dim lamp with a tasseled shade that illuminated the host stand in the corner.
The feeling of being in the right place at the right time was palpable – this evening, this moment was exactly why everyone in the room had made the journey to Nepal, and why they traveled in the first place; to slip inside the beating heart of earth’s eternal family, to become one with the mind of the planet, to feel like they belonged precisely because of their differences.
And then two assholes had to go and ruin the whole thing.
The first asshole was this awful woman from New York, a restaurant patron sitting a few tables away whom Chris never would have noticed if the American and the brunette hadn’t suddenly rolled their eyes in unison at the sound of her voice.
“I can’t stand it” said the American.
“Right?!” agreed the brunette in irritation. “New Yorkers.”
“How can you tell she’s from New York?” asked Chris, baffled and impressed.
“That accent” said the brunette.
“The volume” said the American.
“The complaining” said the 20-year old cyclist, who was Canadian, but apparently could spot a New Yorker when she heard one across the din of a tiny Turkish restaurant.
The Ecuadorians chatted with each other in Spanish, quite oblivious to the fact that had they understood English better, they too would have been suitably irritated.
“OH MY GOD I KNOW, RIGHT?” shouted the voice, completely oblivious to the agreed-upon volume levels that had been subliminally determined by everyone else in the restaurant.
Once it was pointed out to him, the bright, grating voice of the New York asshole was all Chris could hear. He made a mental note to be more like the Ecuadorians, and only travel to countries where he did not speak the language. When you don’t know what people are saying, he thought, it’s much easier to like them.
“EXCUSE ME? EXCUSE ME! HELLO! OH MY GOD OUR WAITER IS NOT EVEN – HI. HELLO. WE HAVE LIKE, ZERO NAPKINS AT OUR TABLE. NAP-KINS. TISSUE? YEAH. CAN YOU BRING SOME, LIKE, ASAP? THAT MEANS RIGHT NOW, NOT IN LIKE, THREE HOURS. THAAAAANK YOUUUUUU.”
They all listened to the obnoxious symphony for a few moments, the Americans and the Canadian shuddering.
“Holy shit” breathed Chris softly. “It’s positively dreadful.”
They nodded at him solemnly, sighing into their eggplant.
“The way we feel about her must be the way the rest of the world feels when they hear Americans speak” said the brunette.
Everyone agreed with the astute observation.
“…AND THEN I WAS LIKE, I’M FROM NEW YORK! I MEAN, AM I RIGHT?”
“She like a caricature of herself” mused Chris.
“It’s not completely her fault” said the brunette, ever the diplomat. “Her city is so big and loud that she has to compete to survive. She’s under the impression that if she doesn’t scream, she won’t be heard. If she doesn’t scream, she’ll die.”
“But we’re not in New York” said Chris.
“Touché” said the brunette, grinning.
Just then, as if demonstrating the validity of their observations, the New York asshole called out across the entire dining room to the waiter, breaking about 17 cultural subtleties of dining in a Turkish restaurant in Nepal.
The entire dining process in Nepal takes quite a bit longer than it does in the West, because it is assumed that you are dining out for the experience, not simply to assuage your growing hunger.
That’s why it takes 20 minutes for your order to be taken, another 15 for the beer to come, and so on. Sometimes you have to eat a meal right before you go out to dinner, just so you don’t starve before your food arrives.
It’s also not customary for the waiter to bring you your bill; it would be considered rude, as if the proprietor was throwing you out of the restaurant before you were ready to leave. If you are ready for the bill, you must ask for the bill.
In typical American fashion, the New York asshole assumed that the lack of attention to her and her table wasn’t a cultural idiosyncrasy of Nepal, but a personal affront to her and a sign of deliberate neglect.
“EXCUSE ME, CAN WE GET OUR CHECK, PLEASE? GOD.”
“If I murder her right now, will you visit me in Nepalese jail?” whispered the brunette to Chris.
“Only every single day” he whispered back.
It was ironic, though not inappropriate, that she’d brought up the topic of murder.
Especially since one was about to take place when the second asshole of the evening stepped through the back door of the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right, wielding a butcher knife in his right hand.
For Part 2, click here.
This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!
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