For this week’s beer list, an anecdote:
From behind the bar, I’ve met some pretty colorful characters, many of whom I’d never see myself otherwise engaging. Chief among this group are foreigners and the elderly. The latter is hard to relate to, the former is just hard to understand.
But, as chance would have it, last night I found myself serving a group of three older aliens. They were classic tourists – frumpy, quiet, and with a wide-eyed alertness that was half confusion and half terror.
The group’s saving grace was the uniqueness of their order – two Bacardis and a latte – and it earned them a little attention from me. “So where are you guys from?” I asked. They said nothing, which is actually the standard response. I repeated myself, slower this time, and the younger woman got it. “Belgium,” she said. My ears perked. “Belgium?” Finally, I thought, a chance to test my beer chops! What ensued was probably the most butchered conversation in the history of human intercourse. I mangled every pronunciation. They answered me in Flenglish. Certainly nothing of value made it across to either party.
Eventually I articulated “Orval?” with enough chutzpah to focus their attention. “Is it good?” Their trademark stare gave way to recognition! The old man started to speak, but stopped himself… so close! “Is Orval good?” I repeated. This jumpstarted the old-timer, who began pointing ferociously at the wooden bar. “It’s… it’s… brown!”
Orval is indeed a brown beer. And though the message couldn’t have been simpler, we all rejoiced in the fact that a cultural connection was made.
So wrapped our conversation. I left the group to drink their rum and their latte. Checking in periodically, I saw all three hovered around a book, pointing and discussing. When it came time to leave, just what they were studying became clear. The old man stood up proudly, clearly on the verge of something momentous. He looked me in the eye, leaned forward, and slammed both hands on the bar. “YOU come to BELGIUM and drink BEER with ME!” With that he administered one of the most enthusiastic handshakes of all time and was gone.
And that was it. Despite the simplicity of the connection, the fact that it was made against all odds felt very special. And while beer certainly didn’t make the communication any easier, it gave us a point – based on both international recognition and regional pride – from which to start. Something tells me this won’t be the last connection made over a good beer.