One of the good things about my work as an interpreter is that I have the opportunity to travel quite a bit and end up in interesting places I would never have chosen to go to myself. On the other hand, being someone who only has about an hour of real alertness per day – 10.30 – 11 a.m. and 7.00 to 7.30 p.m. more or less – things can become rather difficult when you get entangled with lots of unfamiliar surroundings.
One special challenge I find (and I realise this is particularly unimportant) is hotel breakfasts. Once I tried to write a poem about this: the poem is not very good, but I think the title is not bad– so either I turn the title into the poem or else I work on it and transform it into a full-blown epic on breakfast.
Some early breakfasts ask too many questions
Mexico City, two
a piece of burnt
who am I ?
For it is true that eggs stare at you balefully and the various kinds of fruit gabble away to each other unintelligibly in their own luminous tropical languages, perhaps saying nasty things about you. This, and having to deal with human conversation, is difficult enough, but something even more disconcerting about hotel breakfasts is that they are all laid out and organised differently, so that in your early-morning mistymindedness, perhaps not even sure which country you are in, you have the task of discovering the secret logic behind them all on your own, with no clues.
In some places, the coffee is in a jug and you have to serve yourself, in others you will get sent away irately if you try to approach, there are still other places where its location and the time of arrival are jealously guarded mysteries and if you are reckless enough to want a pot of tea you have to begin negotiating the night before. If you also plan on eating something it can take you hours to find everything you need. I remember that once I only found the fruit on the third day. People like me, who are slow and slumberous off the mark in the morning, need a breakfast before they can deal with this kind of breakfast.
So I have the following idea – ISO should produce a standard for hotel breakfasts (ISO 700am). The European Union could also adopt a directive to approximate breakfasts or harmonise them, which is the kind of terminology they like to use. I have some fears about this because, in view of the current membership of the European Union, this may result in a deluge of cucumbers. But harmonised breakfasts sound like a lot of fun, you could have the bread in B flat, the cheese in E flat and the butter in F. All the jams would obviously be in jazz harmony. And anything white and foamy, like yogurt and cream, would sing in barbershop quartet style.
Failing this, why don’t hotels distribute audio-guides (or else, if anybody wants to be my business partner, we can set up stalls to rent them out)? As in museums, you could just put on your headphones and be led round the hall by the ear. In fact, now I think of it audio-guides would be useful for all kinds of things. I have days which I don’t even know how to start – an audio-guide to the morning which starts by telling you to get out of bed would also be valuable. And then there are those people you are always getting your lines crossed with, who always misunderstand all your remarks. If you had an audio-guide specifically for each of them wouldn’t that make life easier ? As you can see from the photograph above, I am making mine publicly available. Finally there are, quite simply, days on which I would like to have an audio-guide to life.