“Excuse me! This is a… er… fancy restaurant, girls.”
He was wearing a tuxedo and smelled of musky fancy-person cologne, but there was no one else eating in his restaurant. It was like he was kicking us out of a party that only he had showed up to.
“We know,” replied my friend Alice, unfazed by his bristly Swedish ‘tude. I nodded. Clearly, this man did not understand that he was in the presence of foodies. Yes, nineteen year-old American foodies, but foodies nonetheless. Diehard foodies. Serious foodies. We were prepared to throw down for our chance to eat good seafood during our six hours in Sweden.
“Hmm, welllll… yes, alright, follow me, hmmm?” he drawled and, with a shake of his head, lead us to a table right next to the restaurant’s massive open-air fish tank. It was right in the middle of the place, and one could see all manner of fish flopping listlessly around in it.
He brought us menus, and placed them in front of us almost as a challenge. I’m fairly certain he expected us to get up and run when we saw the fancy-restaurant dishes and the fancy-restaurant prices. But we had wound up in Sweden for a mere six hours on our way back to France, and had only just learned what the Swedish currency was called—neither Alice nor I had figured out the exchange rate whatsoever.
We ordered a massive seafood assortment, and no sooner had the words left our lips that the waiter actually smiled. No—he beamed. In an instant, we had won the respect of our crusty old Swedish waiter, and all we had to do was not order something bland and banal; we were American and nineteen, but not in search of cheeseburgers. This was clearly such a surprise that he felt the need to show us his appreciation. Grinning, he took our orders and scurried off.
The first course was made up of a shrimp dish, and Alice and I were famished. We watched the fish swimming around in the tank in order to take our eyes off the kitchen, where we found ourselves glancing up to see if the waiter was coming with food every thirty seconds or so. To our immediate chagrin, he didn’t bring our food right to us when he finally emerged.
Instead, holding the dish in his left hand, he reached up high onto a shelf near the kitchen with his right. After a few seconds of groping around, standing tippy-toe in his fancy-guy tuxedo, he produced a large wooden ship.
Alice and I exchanged glances.
He put the ship in the water in the open-air fish tank.
Alice and I really exchanged glances.
Then, after a brief pause, he slammed the shrimp dish down onto the ship and came running over to our table, shoving a remote control in Alice’s face and breathlessly telling us that we had to drive the wooden ship to our table before the fish in the tank ate the shrimp. “It’s a game!” the waiter exclaimed, looking like he was restraining himself from jumping up and down in excitement.
Alice looked at me. I looked at Alice.
In that moment, a large eel-like creature jumped up and stole a shrimp off the boat with a splash. We screamed! And then we giggled. Alice looked at me again, but this time, the look was not a wary one; it was a look of determination, adventurousness and dire seriousness.
We jammed the control forward. The boat lurched into action in the complete wrong direction, and another fish leapt up and got a shrimp. Leaning into the turn, we pushed the control the other direction, and the ship made a wide turn, evading several leaping fish in the process. We could hear the waiter’s cries of delight behind us as we steered the ship to the side of the tank, and he retrieved our shrimp for us.
They were delicious, and I daresay they tasted even better after we saved them from the clutches of the eels in the tank.
After returning back home to France, we looked up the exchange rate for the Swedish krona, and were appalled by how much of our measly college globetrotter funds had just gone down our esophagi. But no matter how low our bank accounts were afterwards, I know we both would do it all again quicker than an eel can jump up and steal a shrimp off a remote-control boat.