Thursday, April 09, 2015

Royal Treatment

On my recent visit to Almaty, my colleague and I experienced hospitality at its best. Nobody has ever made such a fuss over me, in a good way.
We were invited by the GM of an agency who regretted not finding a mutually agreeable slot last time we were there. Well, as far as I knew, we were going to meet her for dinner so I had no expectations. It started with the agency driver picking us up from our hotel and her waiting outside the restaurant, probably half-frozen without her jacket, which was inside (it is customary to leave your coats at a cloak room right upon entering restaurants). She then led us to the table, where 3 female colleagues were awaiting us. One knew English fairly well and had been enlisted to act as interpreter for the evening, together with my colleague.
Well, our hostess pretty much ordered everything off the menu (including the obligatory horse meat and fermented horse and camel milk) in vast quantities. When I commented how much I loved the silky goat cheese that I had already eaten at the hotel, they ordered an extra plate just with that cheese for me.
Having already experienced several dinners with Russian-English interpretation on the previous nights, I focused on the food and tried to just nod enthusiastically at the required intervals, assuring the others that I didn't mind if they continued their conversation without attempting to translate everything for me.
Well, this didn't really work as I, being foreign, was regarded as the Super VIP and it turned out the most junior lady at the table had virtually begged her boss to be allowed to join such exclusive company. Honestly is apparently a valued quality in Kazakhstan: "We didn't want to take her, but she wouldn't stop begging us". This girl pretty much just giggled and took pictures of us, but I hope she got some benefit out of it. Once we were done with the main course (having managed to eat about 20% of it), they ordered desserts. Despite our protests that we were REALLY full, a huge selection arrived, together with more tea. Since the cheese plate was still sitting in front of me and I decided to pick at the halved grapes that served as decoration, they concluded I wanted fruit and I could just about stop the hostess from ordering a fruit platter for me. She then asked the waitress if they could pack some cheese for me to take home since I had praised it so much. I pretended to be very concerned about the EU customs regulations and said that I wouldn't be able to import it, otherwise I am sure she would have bought a kilo.
When I got up to go to the toilet, I had the English-speaking colleague escort me to the restrooms so I wouldn't get lost. I half expected her to wait outside, but they trusted me to be able to retrace my steps.
When it was time to leave, the hostess of course not letting us split the bill, she ordered a taxi for us, then walked us to the car and insisted on paying the driver in advance despite our protests. When we were in the car, we both agreed that we had never experienced hospitality like that. It may sound OTT and it was indeed, but in such a nice and sincere way that it felt like being taken out by your granny or great-aunt who you know always spoils you rotten.


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