What did Greta Garbo actually say?

What did Greta Garbo actually say?  I want to be left alone.  The “left” makes a big semantic difference.

What prompted me to think of that quotation?  This Huffington Post article did.

I sometimes go to my local cafe.  I nickname it “Das Wartezimmer” (“the Waiting Room”).  Why?  Let me tell you.  [Rant mode on]

The local cafe is full of people sitting in their cliques round each table.

Fair enough so far.

But once you’ve drunk up your cup of coffee, is it not time to either order another one or to vacate your table so other paying customers can enjoy a coffee/tea/brunch etc in peace and quiet?  After all, you have been sitting there, hogging that table for over an hour.

Last week, and not for the first time, I called into the Wartezimmer at 16:50L after work.  Not a single spare table for me to sit on my own.  Each table has one empty cup of coffee, surrounded by three or for people standing guard over each cup.  By the time I had left at 18:20L, having:

  • Eaten two cheese and ham rolls and a piece of apple pie
  • Drunk two large cups of coffee
  • Written a week’s worth of diary notes (for I was in catch-up mode)
  • Scanned through the latest edition of Private Eye.

For us Brits, to have a table to oneself if sacrosanct.  Never mind “me” time.  We Brits also need “me space.”  No need to wish me, a stranger, Guten Appetit/Guten Hunger/Mahlzeit.  Just leave me alonePunkt.

I am reasonably empathetic.  But as per the Huffington Past article, even though I am not eye candy, I just want my space.  Yet every time I writing my diary or reading my book or magazine, I get one of my enforced neighbours trying to help me out of my loneliness.

Man standing guard over empty coffee cup:

Is that book interesting?

Ginge in Germany:

Yes.  I’m halfway through it.

(I’d be three-quarters through it, matey, if you’d just kindly go and hold court elsewhere, preferably in another city.)

MSGOECC:

I saw you a few minutes ago writing in a book.  Is that your diary?

G in G:

It is.

(I’m tempted to say, “No.  I’m doing another forgery of Hitler’s diaries, to see if I can fool the historians again.”  But I decide that passive-aggressive tutting, curt replies and absence of eye contact should be sufficient hint that I have come here to eat, drink, be merry, read and write in peace.)

MSGOECC:

Are you left-handed?

G in G:

I am.

(What I wanted to say: “You should know.  You’ve been watching me for the past 20 minutes, writing my diary, using my left hand.”)

All I can think is, thank goodness I did that interrogator’s course nearly two decades ago.

Come on, I dare you, ask me more questions.  I’m so itching to give you the ICATQ treatment.

I think MSGOECC finally got the message.  He finally stands up, pays for his coffee and wishes me, “Schönen Tag noch,” and heads out to… wherever.

Have an aloof day, won’t you!

Being Old-Fashioned

I’m quite old-fashioned, and proudly so.  I believe in:

  • Saying please and thank you
  • Holding doors open for people
  • Waiting with female friends at the bus stop until they’ve boarded their bus
  • Saying “shedule”, not “skedule”
  • Using a fountain pen

I use a fountain pen.  I use it when writing my diary (Anne Frank/Samuel Pepys/Adrian Mole-style), which I often write while sitting in the local old folks waiting room local cafe. I’ve often found it to be an effective ice-breaker.

“Are you left-handed?”

(Your hearing might be going, but by Jove, your eyesight is still good, Kumpel.

“Is that a fountain pen?  It’s really stylish-looking.  What make is it?  Where can I buy one?”

Actually, they don’t bombard the questions.  That’s just a summary of what they ask.

The piece de resistance is when they see me filling my fountain pen with ink.  Even traditionalists who write with a fountain pen tend to use cartridges.  Not me.  I use a converter.

converter

 

Imagine the look of amazment on the face of a nine-year-old member of the Ipod generation, watching a left-hander writing a diary entry with a fountain pen and then seeing him drawing ink from a bottle into a converter.  She must have thought she was watching an episode of How We Used To Live.

Edit: Here is a sample of my handwriting, in in English and Russian/Cyrillic.  I messed one word up on the second line.

20161004_174900

Have an old-fashioned day, won’t you!

Feeling Left Out in Russia

I’m left-handed.  In many countries, that’s no longer a big deal.  In others, it is.  In Russia it is.  Well, it was when I spent time there in the late 80’s and early 90’s, as a tourist and then on my year abroad.

My first experience of Russians’ discrimination against left-handedness was in August 1987 in Leningrad (aka St Petersburg/Petrograd).  I was sitting in my hotel, writing a postcard home.  “Wish you were here,” etc.  All a sudden a hand appeared from nowhere, grabbed my ballpoint pen from my left hand and thrust it into my right hand, and the reasonably attractive owner of the aforementioned hand exclaimed to me in a Russian accent, “Good!”  My Russian and my reactions were not good enough for me to be able to tell her, “Get lost, and mind your own business.”

Fast forward to January 1992, a lonely prison wall, hang on, that’s Fields of Athenry, a three-man cell room in a student hall in Voronezh, Russia.  My British room-mate was out and about.  My Russian room-mate was sitting on his bed, reading Three Men in a Boat.  Every few seconds I saw him looking up and looking at me in annoyance and disgust.

Finally after twenty minutes, he burst out with:

Зачем ты пишешь левой рукой?  Тренируешься?

[“Why are you writing left-handed?  Are you training, or something?”]

I chose not to get into a discussion.

Being a leftie is like being a member of a slightly exclusive club.  To quote the UB40 song, I Am the One in Ten (in the UK, at least).  Schatz (a doctor) tells me there are more left-handers among the British than among the Germans.  Well, that makes sense, the Inselaffen are a strange mongrel people.  Being a “ginga”, I must be in another one in ten in the UK.  Therefore statistically, I must be 1/10 x 1/10 = one in a hundred.

I sometimes ask bl00dy foreigners people of other nationalities or Brits who have lived abroad about attitudes to left-handedness in their countries.  Last week while enjoying spam and tomato on toast (gotta say, it was most pleasing to the palate) with the locum chaplain and his wife, I asked “Mrs Vicarage” about attitudes in Japan, where they were “stationed” for 30+ years.

It turns out that the left hand is discouraged for writing.  It is only used after a cremation.  Family of the deceased queue up, “chopsticks” in left hand and place pieces of the cremains into the funeral urn for burial.  Very strrrrrrrrange.

Are lefties a persecuted minority in your country?

Have a sinister day, won’t you!

The younger generation – how to amaze them

Schatz, who’s a doctor, once told me a lot of Brits are left-handed.  I’ve not checked that claim empirically.  Nonetheless, I do feel that being left-handed is like being part of a slightly exclusive club.  When I see politicians like Barack Obama and David Cameron signing treaties, acts and laws left-handed, I always raise my eyebrows and say to myself, “Ah, they’re left-handed, too.”  When I once observed my GP signing a prescription for me, I said, “Ah, you’re left-handed, too.”

“All the best people are,” she told me.  I’ll never argue with a doctor, especially a fellow left-hander.  In fact, I should have noticed earlier in that appointment that she was a left-hander, as she had used her left hand to check out a very sensitive part of my body.

Does it normally hurt when someone squeezes your …?

Well, funny you should mention it, doctor, but yes it does.  And after this appointment, I will not be cycling to work this morning.

So, how to amaze the younger generation?  Easy:

  1. Be left-handed.
  2. Write with a fountain pen.  I’m truly assimilated in this fine Teutonic land.  I use a LAMY pen.  See: http://www.lamy.com .
  3. Sit opposite a 9-year-old on a train.
  4. Write in your notebook.  (No, not a small laptop.  A proper paper notebook, with a hardback cover.)

Result: one young lady watching in amazement as I write left-handed, a bit like Obama in this picture.  Even more amazement as I unscrewed the top of the fountain pain, inserted the nib into the ink bottle and filled the converter (not even a cartridge) with ink from the bottle.  This must have surely been a talking point on Monday at school…

 

barakHave a leftist day, won’t you!