Dinner with Beggar-cat

Eastern Europe is a land of hard sells. In my experience. Wouldn’t want to be accused of trying to stereotype an entire region. But, seriously, it is.

In Athens, this was relegated mainly to restaurants, though there was one particularly humorous exchange with a cab driver who was convinced he knew where I wanted to go better than I did, and during which I was apparently exasperating enough in my certainty to make him utter the words “Lady, listen to me.”

And we weren’t even in his cab.

That’s another thing. There were lots of Ladies. “Sir” and “Lady,” not “Sir” and “Ma’am.” Which makes me think Eastern Europeans learn their English from stories of King Arthur and Game of Thrones. There was the occasional Madame and several Senoritas, because, apparently, we presented as Spanish.

Who woulda thunk, eh?

In Istanbul, the hard sell was used by both shopkeepers and restaurateurs, so the second we stepped outside our hotel in Istanbul, we were greeted with an offer of dinner, but we had places to be and things to see. We were nabbed again on the way back through, and had already kind of decided on eating there, but the owner was ready to proclaim the excellence of every dish on the menu, so we let him.

Then, his friend, server, outdoor cook, and venue entertainment came over. All the same guy.

Holding out his pinkie, the second guy told this joke –

“Why can’t a Chinaman use this finger?”

“I don’t know,” I gamely responded.

“Come close,” he said, waving us in. “It’s a secret.”

So, the four of us huddled up.

“Because this is my finger,” he replied.

Obviously, at that point, we were in for dinner. Which we ate outside next to a heat lamp. Though it was 35 degrees (that’s fahrenheit). I have great appreciation for the outdoor Mediterranean culture. I appreciate it considerably less when it’s three degrees above freezing.

The cat felt the same way, apparently.

The Cat.

Otherwise known as my Istanbul nemesis.

The cat was a devilish fiend. Appearance, cute. Manners, nonexistent.

Athens and Istanbul both have serious stray populations. In Athens, dogs outnumbered cats three to one. In Istanbul, cats were the most common beasts of the city. It was a cat that we ate with at our feet in Athens, but, in Istanbul, the cats were bolder. As soon as we sat down for dinner, we were approached by one such four-legged beggar.

A stray with a plan.

That plan? To find a warm lap. By whatever means necessary.

First, the cat jumped up behind Shawna, nestling at her back, until it was finally shooed away by the comedian-cook, who was also our main server.

But the cat came back.

By that point, it was so cold, I had abandoned my distant side of the table to share the side nearest the heat lamp, so the cat set its sights on me.

The cat was patient and attentive. It just waited for its moment. And my silly desire to capture photographic evidence of Beggar-cat gave it one. As I snapped this photograph –

Beggar-cat.Cute of face. Evil of heart.
             Cute of face. Evil of heart.

Beggar-Cat seized the opportunity to jump into my lap. At which point, Shawna karate chopped Beggar-cat, I took a claw to the thigh, and we almost lost our lentil soup as I tried to forcibly remove Beggar-cat from my lap and Beggar-Cat grabbed onto the tablecloth like it was a three-year-old trying to avoid bed.

After that, there was a penis joke from our comedian server, whom we also got to watch send an older couple off with a “you keep her warm when you get upstairs,” which led to a discussion about Viagra and all the associated inappropriateness you would expect.

Then, they asked what they could “over” us? That was their term.

Every meal we ate in Athens and Istanbul ended with something on the house. In Athens, we were given the spot of wine and the orange slices. In Istanbul, we chose the apple tea, but it came out with two squares of baklava, delivered by another young man who pointed out the chocolate with extreme satisfaction. When we expressed how amazing the apple tea was, we were offered more. Also on the house. Not like, you’re first taste is free and then you pay.

It was a way of business and life in direct opposition to the U.S. way of overcharging and under-delivering.

Not just different. Better.

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