Historic Turkey Banquet, and One Antique Too Many
It so happened that the dates of the first US National Exhibition spanned a very important American holiday, Thanksgiving. This was very unpopular with the American visitors, for whom this is a big annual family gathering and feast; but the organizers insisted it was unavoidable.
To compensate, the organizers (the U.S. Department of Commerce) went to great lengths to arrange for hundreds of frozen turkeys to be flown into Beijing by Pan Am, cooked by the Beijing Hotel kitchens, and served to the hundreds of American delegates at a gala Thanksgiving banquet in the hotel’s grand ballroom.
The logistics and negotiations surrounding this unprecedented turkey dinner in Beijing were complex and challenging, but it finally came together and was a great success, providing the Americans with a sense of home away from home. So big was the fanfare that it was actually covered on the 6 pm news broadcast on several national TV networks back in the U.S. and on numerous Chinese news broadcasts as well.
Seating was assigned. At my table that evening, most of us were meeting for the first time.
On my right sat a 30-something year old overseas Chinese man who spoke quite good English.
Across the table from us was a middle-aged British woman, married to an American executive who was also seated at our table. She was very stylishly dressed, wearing a fairly low-cut top – especially by the dress standards of those days in Beijing — and an attractive necklace made from a piece of antique Chinese porcelain.
All of us at the table were doing our best to get acquainted and enjoy this special occasion. The young man to my right was trying to strike up a conversation with the woman seated opposite us.
His intention was to offer a complement about her necklace, with its unusual piece of old porcelain. Unfortunately, however, he mixed up the singular and plural forms, and said, as gazed admiringly at her chest: “Very nice antiques! ”
Wondering exactly which “antiques” he was admiring, the British woman gave him a withering look of equivalent temperature to a frozen turkey.
Realizing he had inadvertently said the wrong thing, he quickly clarified himself: “I mean your antique necklace is very nice.” Peace was restored. All was well, and the rest of the evening’s conversation went on without a hitch.
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