Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An Embassy Affair

Some time ago, a colleague and I managed to get an invitation to an event at the French embassy in Riyadh. It was a very formal affair and when we got there almost everyone apart from the two of us was dressed in tuxedos (I do not own a tuxedo).

Eventually the gates opened and we all streamed in. After being scanned and searched for cell phones, cameras and weapons we moved to the outside bar area. We ordered a couple of beers and by the time I had taken a couple of sips of mine my colleague had finished his. I should mention here that alcohol is illegal in the Kingdom, apart from in the embassies, so this was a rare treat.

After a quick visit to the bar my colleague returned with a couple of Chivas for each of us which, for me, was nectar from the gods. I must confess that I had smuggled a small plastic bottle onto the premises which I filled with Chivas for my future enjoyment. 

In due course the bar closed and we moved to our assigned tables for the meal. We shared a table with ten other guests and I found myself seated next to a rather introverted Italian guy with a rather extroverted Swiss girlfriend. She proudly informed us that she was a sexologist and she clearly enjoyed the speculative looks that this information provoked from all the males at the table. Her boyfriend seemed vaguely discomfited by all the attention she was receiving.

My colleague, meanwhile, had bribed one of the waiters with SAR100 for him to keep bringing drinks and at regular intervals he would leave the table and reappear with more drinks for us. Sadly, each time I was ready for another drink I found that he had finished them. Fortunately there was wine on the table which I enjoyed with my meal. As the alcohol took hold, my companion’s appreciation of etiquette suffered and he became louder and contradicted nearly every comment made by anyone at the table (with the exception of the sexologist).

Growing bored he drifted off again, and after he had been missing for about 30 minutes, a rather
austere French gentleman informed me that he felt that my friend was in need of assistance. He led me across a marble-tiled courtyard to where my colleague was sitting on a step. Of his former exuberance there was no sign. His head was hanging, his eyes were lusterless and his general demeanor was that of one who is not feeling in the best of health. He promptly confirmed this assessment by vomiting onto the marble tiling, said vomit splashing onto my shoes and trousers.

At this, the French gentleman opined that this would probably be the appropriate moment for us to make our exit. I could not disagree with him so accordingly I returned to my table to get my jacket, only to find it was missing. I saw what appeared to be my jacket on the back of another chair, but when I tried to take it the owner of the jacket objected. Once he had proved to my satisfaction that the jacket in question was indeed his, I returned to my friend where I found that my jacket had been place next to him (fortunately, not right next to him). All stops had obviously been pulled out in order to hasten our departure.

I dutifully supported the inebriated one as we exited the embassy, him leaving damp and smelly footprints as he wobbled off the premises. I found a taxi and off we went. Sadly, his stomach had not yet finished rebelling against the evening’s insults and he abruptly wound down his window and sprayed more vomit into the slipstream. The upside of this was that the cars behind us kept a more respectable following distance following this incident. Eventually we got home where I had to pay the irate taxi-driver a bonus of SAR30 for a car wash. I managed to get my colleague up the stairs and into his room, where I gave him a gentle push in the general direction of his bed, where he collapsed like a dead man and immediately started snoring.

The next day he asked me if I would like to chip in half of the bribe he had paid the waiter to keep the booze coming. I politely declined. I then waited for him to offer to refund the taxi cleaning fee which I had paid on his behalf. In this respect I was destined to be disappointed.

We have not gone to any other social events together and regrettably, I have been unable to get any more invitations to embassy events. My emails to the lady who arranged our invitation to the French embassy appear to be disappearing into cyber-space - surely she wouldn't be ignoring me...