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Back in Portobello, the only actual town on the Otago Peninsula, I’d called the King George V Coronation Bathhouse (despite the name, a Queenstown restaurant of some repute) and no one had picked up the phone. The message on the voice mail: “we are busy with service and cannot come to the phone” or some such excuse. Well, OK, fine. So the next day, from the same phone booth in Portobello, I’d called again – a little earlier this time – and asked for a reservation at 7:30. They’d counter-offered 7, which I took.

So when we arrive at 6:55 to an already-packed restaurant, and a waitress comes charging towards us with a panicked expression on her face, I’m already afraid of what’s to come. “Do you have reservations?” she breathlessly demands; Theresa immediately concludes she’s being rude, whereas I just find it odd. In any case, it turns out that they’ve somehow lost our reservation, and cannot find room for us. An apology is never offered, and an attempt on our part to see if we have somehow mixed up the day fails to draw much interest; instead, an interrogation to ferret out how we are at fault follows. “We only take reservations at 6:45 and 8,” she insists. Well, OK, then someone on the phone screwed up. Then: “we have people trying to sneak in here all the time, claiming to have a reservation.” Excuse me? This is the point where I start to lose my temper. She backs off just a bit – still not apologetic for having moved from error to accusations of chicanery so quickly – and insists that we must have made a reservation at the similar-sounding (to her, at least) Boardwalk. In response, I produce my self-composed reference sheet that has every restaurant of interest (to me) in a given area, point to their listing (there’s none on my sheet for the Boardwalk), and ask if the number below it is theirs. She huffs bit, insisting that I must have made some sort of mistake, and again hinting that we’re trying to bully our way in. Having finally had enough, we leave.

To this day, she remains the single rudest New Zealander I’ve ever met.

Back at the house, Theresa calls the number I have listed for the restaurant. The same woman with whom we’ve just dealt picks up the phone, all cheer and lightness. Theresa asks “is this the King George the Fifth Coronation Bathhouse?” The woman apparently recognizes Theresa’s accent, because her “…yes, it is…” is quite hesitant. Theresa smirks. “I thought so.” She hangs up as the woman starts to sputter. (3/05)


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