Jeff works for a company that is a government contractor. **He is not an arms dealer, lol!! Our military sells jets and crap to other countries!** Jeff is in charge of making the numbers on the spreadsheet add up. One of the countries he supports is Saudi Arabia. (The USA sells all kindsa weaponry to various other countries! Good to know! Not scary at all!) He goes to these meetings twice a year or so where all the details of the sales are hashed out and copious notes are taken, financial spreadsheets are dissected, etc. Sometimes these meetings take place in exotic locations like New Jersy or Detroit. This time they all decided to have the meeting in Sweden.
Balcony in Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
EEEP! He had gone on travel to enough of these things by that time to accrue airline miles, so my flight was FREE! His hotel was paid for, so my housing was FREE! Essentially, I went to Sweden for the cost of my food/drink – which, y’all know, I was still drinking then so uh, that was enough cost for anyone. EXCEPT – and this will be important to the story – alcohol is NOT readily available in Sweden. It is a sovereign country, run by a monarchy. They govern the sale of alcohol with a very tight fist. You have to go to certain stores on certain days within certain hours to get any booze. And the store where you buy booze is NOT the store where you can buy mixers. (Not to mention, nobody in Europe knows what in the fuck ‘tonic water’ is, that is another rant)
So we get there, and I am ecstatic. I am ALONE blessedly alone all day, every day for a week! I am walking the streets of Sweden, exploring Gamla Stan
and everything and just enjoying the fuck out of myself. We didn’t hang out with anyone but Jeff’s immediate boss-type guy, and that was only at night. It was summer so it never got dark at night!
~Prior to this trip, I went to Ross (discount store where clothes go to die) and bought a dress marked down to like, $9.00. Then I went to Payless and bought myself a pair of black peep-toe pumps for $9.99. I had already in my possession a black cardigan shrug sweater. Bip bop, I was done shopping for this dinner.~
The night of the dinner, as we are getting ready in the hotel, Jeff happens to mention that no other wives would be attending. I was the only one. I have no idea how many wives actually came on this trip, but none were coming to this dinner. The excuse they all came up with was having nothing to wear. Um. We were within walking distance of one of the biggest malls I've been in - Sweden is pretty fashion forward. Alarms started sounding in my head but I just kept on straightening my hair. It turns out that these people had past experience with this type of dinner thing, and declined to attend again. UGH.
I had assumed the dinner would take place at a table much like this:
(NOT my picture - ganked from interwebz)
And that I would be WELL below the salt, as the saying goes. Like, I'd be sandwiched between Jeff and some other poor shlub, far from the Royal Assness. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, but I figured I’d see some things I wouldn’t otherwise and eat some food fit for a prince (hahaha) and be ‘on’ for a coupla hours and I’m done. I thought there would be maybe 20 people at this shindig.
The dinner was being held at The Grand Hotel, Stockholm. It is right on the water, one of the 'Grand Dame' type hotels. Built in 1874. It was old-fancy, the way places in San Francisco are.
So here is where the story really starts.
We had no before-party drinks because the bar in the hotel is not yet open. We figure we'll get drinks at the bar in the hotel where dinner is. So, no crutch yet. We take a cab, arrive and head into the lobby. I'm in a foreign country! I'm seeing stuff! Jeff locates the rest of his group, and we head over and mingle. We are then led up some carpeted stairs into a small conference ante-room with a cloth covered table - it has some envelopes on it. Jeff heads over and locates our envelopes. this picture is horrible but the envelopes were labeled "Mr. Jeff Kravitz" and then mine was "Mrs. Kravitz". HOW VERY 1950's.
**PLEASE NOTE** Those envelopes are type written. Not printed by a laser printer, OH HO NO! There is, somewhere in that olde tyme hotel, probably in the basement, a poor 85-year old woman with a typewriter - POUNDING on the keys. You can tell they were typewritten by looking at the letters, the keys don't hit the ribbon full on anymore. JEEBUS Sweden, wtf?
So we move into the conference room, there are 3 or 4 tall cocktail tables covered with cloths and that looks like a good sign to ME, I need a dozen quick shots of vodka stat, but I'll take wine. HAHAHA. So, FYI - not only is this country sort of sticklers about liquor, um - the Saudi's are MUSLIM and they do not drink.
Maybe you didn't hear the Phantom of the Opera music right there. NO BOOZE. I have to be 'on', in front of royalty (??), no crutch. oh god.
At the same time, I am noticing what/who I am in a room with. With whom I am in a room. WTF? I start notcing the other people.
*I am grabbing you by your shirt and getting all up in your grill, wild eyes and frantic gestures* here is a list:
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
His Right Hand Man, A General In The Saudi Military (wearing his uniform with cruel looking medals all over it)
TWO Diplomats Of Some Other Denomination
The Head and Vice Head of Saab <--they don't make only cars!
The Mucky Mucks of Jeff's Job
[OK - so. I am getting sort of panic-attacky while I'm typing this. Point is, these weren't just your average Los Angeles/New York type Power Suits. These guys - I mean really. NEVER have I felt so strongly the desire to see an American flag. I am NOT KIDDING. I was realizing, because I am slow, that being a foreigner in a soveriegn nation and meeting with Saudi's (a country not really known for its fair treatment of PEOPLE, not to mention WOMEN) was not a place you want to be. Those other fucking wives knew.]
[Further digression - when I think about that general/right hand man guy, I always think of this:]
Talk about swimming with sharks. I felt... it was so weird. I was so anxious and out of my element (money and power) and then also - there was no emotion going on in that room. In a room full of women, or just a regular cocktail party, you get get the emotional temperature really quick. NOT HERE.
These were predators. Business predators, sure. But also narcissistic dead-eyed predators. I was located, absently smiled at (or bowed over my hand) and dismissed. I was not business, and I was a woman. I didn't exist. They were hunting and I wasn't what they were after. Like a hunter will kill a spider on his way to tracking a deer.
I have no pictures of this entire 'cocktail' hour OR the dinner. I wasn't going to bring out a camera. I was shitting my pants.
There were also Swedish secret service men patroling around. They looked like James Bond and that isn't as sexy as you would think.
We went into dinner which was not a looong table, it was 5 round tables crowded into a room. We were seated so conversations could be heard - it was close. And on each place was this:
(Again with the type writer)
And also this:
Evidently that palm tree with the crossed swords is the royal symbol. That menu card was front & back. Also - they brought The Royal Stationery with them. GOOD GRIEF.
There were 5 round tables. Jeff and I were seated in a corner, with two 25-year old Saudi's that looked like gophers? They stayed on their cell phones texting the whole time. We were seated WITH THE HELP.
Dinner was ok, it was hotel food so it LOOKED fancy but tasted meh. The waiters! There was one head waiter. He looked about 65. Then there were two helper-waiters. The head waiter was the ONLY one to serve the prince. (guess who served us?) this head waiter - man, he knew his stuff. He had two spoons with his fingers looped around and was using them like tongs, with surgical precision. THEY NEVER SPOKE. He communicated with the two helpers with looks and head nods. NO WORDS. It was fucking creepy. Like Downton Abbey if the servents were afraid of losing their heads.
After the main course I was dying to go to the restroom. I had been waiting and waiting, and I was so nervous - how does a WOMAN excuse herself to go PEE in a room full of men? If it was the good old US of A, no problemo. But here? I worked myself into a fine tizzy until I said to myself "Self. The US is the mightest country in the WORLD. Just because these backward third-world country assholes are sitting here is no reason YOU, an American citizen, cannot avail herself of the facilities!" So I finally found my gumption and stood up. OF COURSE, everyone looked at me and the room went silent. I just sort of smiled a sickly smile vaguely at the room and walked away I DIDN'T TRIP thank god. I go around the corner and old Barney Fife the Swedish secret service guy followed me to the bathroom. In Europe all bathrooms are tiny, this one was no exception. I shut the door, sat down and reached over and turned on the water in the sink so this guy couldn't hear me pee.
He followed me because I was the only one in that room without a 'secret clearance'. Do you see why it was so nerve wracking??
I get back to the table (Barney Olsen-Fife trailing me) and sit down. Jeff then decides the coast is clear and HE gets up. At this point the prince LEEEAANS forward, almost into his plate, to see me AROUND someone else, and calls out "I HOPE YOU ARE HAVING A VERY NICE TIME?" and every. single. person. looks at me.
There I am in my $9.00 dress, no booze, in a room of sharks, and all of the sudden they are looking at ME. Time stood still. I opened my mouth and I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I SAID. I burst out in sweat like one of those Pokemon characters when they cry. My SHOES filled up with flop-sweat. I stuttered and smiled and had a hot flash and mumbled and SMILED and fuck me. It was awful.
In the cab on the way back to our hotel I said I needed a bottle of vodka. Jeff agreed to buy me as many drinks as I wanted but he said I had to shower first THAT'S HOW SWEATY I GOT.
Aaaand, that is my story of meeting royalty. It was horrible. The end.
*The title of this blog is from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, called Ali Baba Bunny. It's kinda funny. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zn1QyxqU-Yk