Entries in Hotel (1)

Friday
May202011

Dining Alone in Dubai

What I should have said was, “Are you dining alone? Yes—then let’s eat together, because I am as well.” What I did say was…nothing.

And so we sat, two business travelers in our hotel restaurant—a fairly elegant place: white linen table clothes, a chef overly taken with reductionism (but thoughtful in presentation) and fine service.

Whereas I’m normally outgoing with respect to engaging people while traveling, I’m fairly tired at the moment. Lots of running around and long days. So when the waiter brought my wine, it went straight to my head—fatigue compounded by not having had a drop in a week because I was in dry Kuwait. The inclination to chat up the young woman seated across from me appeared for a moment, and then vanished.  

I could tell she was unprepared for solo dining, having put on a lovely dress, looking quite cheerful and lacking any distractions whatsoever. I had on a t-shirt and khakis, with iPad in tow. I knew to have myself seated by a window, facing away from the majority of the restaurant. She obviously let the staff seat her—to watch everyone else in the packed place eat, including me…who she looked at directly.

The awkwardness between us—because I could play Scrabble on my iPad and she could only stare across the room at the side of my head—was accentuated by an inverse sort of awkwardness nearby: a group of traveling coworkers.

Polite jokes among a mixed table of eight. Laughter too loud, followed by silences in the conversation. Tepid discussion of sports and careful conversation of non-present colleagues. A hotter hell I cannot imagine.

But the young woman by herself remained cheerful. She made a few phone calls to bide her time, but didn’t get through. She left messages describing her trip, from Ireland to Australia and how this was her first time in Dubai. I could hear it all—said to no one but voicemail. When once her phone did ring, it was a salesperson she tersely dismissed. And then on she looked, contemplating the contemporary flatware and rolling the legs of her wine.

I finished my desert and departed.

When traveling, the inclination is to make the most of every moment—as it is rare to be in a different place that offers exposure to different experiences and different people. Sometimes, though, it is just nice to act like you belong exactly where you are and passively absorb all that's around you. I think I'm having one of those trips.