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Dinner with the Prince

So here is why I love Harvard. Last Monday I was scheduled to have afternoon coffee with a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Congress. At very few other places would I have the opportunity to casually mention to a retired congressman after class that I would love to chat with him and would next Monday work. More importantly, in very few places would something come up to make me have to reschedule that sort of appointment.

Imagine my chagrin, then, when realizing that my Monday dinner date was going to force me to reschedule the Honorable Congressman from Kentucky, but afterall, how often do you get to have dinner with a prince? Less often than coffee with a congressman, I would imagine, and so on Monday I rushed back from my class at KSG to don my fanciest iridescent dress shirt and a four button suit for my 5:30 appointment with His
Highness, Prince Moulay Hischam of Morocco.

What does one talk about with a prince, I wondered as I walked to Kresge? Would idle chatter about the weather work, or would he be more interested in how we, the unwashen masses, live. Would he have a crown (no), a jester (not present) or maybe even a harem (I hoped)?

But the real problem surrounded table etiquette. As you can probably guess, the first faux pas of the evening was mine–I was the a-hole who tried to sit down before the Prince, eliciting a gasp of shock and horror from the others in attendance. (Perhaps it was merely an idle, unrelated, polite cough, but to my ears it was deafening.)

Who is the schmuck who sat me right next to royalty, anyway? Didn’t they know?

I looked to my right at the prince and found him waiting, majestically, for something, some silent cue before taking his seat. The same happened when the food arrived. I sat nervously on my hands to prevent a causal buttering of my dinner roll from causing an international incident, and took in the scene before me. Twenty or so people, trying to make casual conversation all the while their “shifty eyes” were in full effect, hoping to catch a glimpse of the prince signaling to all the we could indeed eat by beginning himself. That is when I realized it, the a silent cue he was waiting for was for one of US to start, not vice versa. The honor of beginning the meal would be ours, not his. I was beginning to like this guy, a feeling that would grow as the meal went on. It was a bit like an awkward first date, tenuous, full of self consciousness, at first. The prince was full of questions, which he would ask to forestall the awkward silences that tried valiantly to creep into the evening. He gracefully disarmed us and made us comfortable, a skill that he has had a lifetime to perfect. He even managed to feign ignorance when I belched loudly after dessert. I jest, of course. Who could ignore that?

And the best part is that I still get to have my coffee with the congressman.

October 6, 2003
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