Monday, January 23, 2012

Universal Beer

I'me getting back to one of my favourite topics on this blog but even more favourite in the real life. You guessed it first time right, it's beer. I've already listed some of the qualities of the magic drink. If you missed them, you just need to visit this place. Or that one.

Although all those features are essential in shaping up a good picture/reputation of beer, there's another one that's probably the mother of them all. It's the beer's universality that tops everything else, making it a real cervesia universalis. In a world with so many scales and references, full of transient events, beer stands immutably, a true Northern Star. The one and only Polaris.



This story of mine will not have to prove anything, there are thousands of examples in beer's universality favour, but this will add another brick to that wall of fame.

It was in the summer of 2000, nearly a year after having come to Holland, in a short holiday in Romania. To get the right picture, it's worth mentioning that back then travelling to the western Europe was difficult, visas were needed and hard to get, planes were but a few, the ticket prices were prohibitively high, all the troubles. That's why, when you live abroad and then go back home, you have to meet everybody, like there's no tomorrow. What if you leave and they will never see  you again ever?

One day, somewhere in the city, cooling down with a, of course, beer, enjoying the abundance of sun, I was spotted by someone. An acquaintance/neighbour of mine, anyway someone I had not talked to more than 5 minutes altogether in my life. But because I was a local star (everybody living in the West was, so no big deal) he felt bound to approach me and greet me. Honestly, I tried to avoid these chats as much as possible, I had enough friends to be with and have a great time and these people always channeled the discussion to a point in which you would have to promise them that you'd help them buying a car. And not any car, 9 out of 10 people wanted a VW Golf II. Not III or IV, as they couldn't find spare parts for them. Diesel, by all means, petrol is for losers. And it had to be around 500 DM (Deutsche Mark, for the young people :) ). And of course, I should try to find one that belonged to a doctor/lawyer who had  other 19 cars and never used that particular Golf (his wife now and again only to the supermarket). And that's how you could get a very reliable car, 15 years old with only 25 thousand km driven! Really, these were the stories back then. And those people would swear they did not believe in Santa Clause.

As I said, this guys invited himself to keep me company for a beer.
"So", began he the interrogation, "what's your deal in Holland?"
Shall I tell him, shall I not tell him?
"I'm doing a post master in mathematics, focused on industry".
"Oooo, that" (as if he knew what that was).
And then THE question:
"How much do they pay you?"
It might look at least odd nowadays to be asked this question but back then it was everyone's duty to know other people's salaries. And it was not even by probing or so, oh no, it had to be by blunt asking. The worst you can do is to refuse to say the amount. The second worst is to hesitate. If you do either of these two, you'd be hearing a lot about your dubious character and how much you changed and of course "you forgot where you have left from!".
So I just replied to him, confident and precise:
"Twenty one hundred guilders" (actually it was about that at the time)

"Wha'? Guilders? What's that? Don't they pay you in Deutsche Marks?"
"No, guilders is the Dutch currency money."
"Oh, I see. And how much is it?"
"About 0.9 DM for a guilder".
"Hmmm, that would make it about 1500 DM, right?"

I agreed with the amount, no mood of going any further. But in an instant later I saw him making a great effort to conceal the contempt for my poor being. And I knew he was about to tell me a story about his cousin's neighbour's wife's brother-in-law who worked as a plumber in Germany and he got at least 2500 DM per month and in the weekend he could make another 100 by working extra and he bought a VW Golf II, 12 years old only but in an excellent state. Of course, turbo diesel. Needless to say, the car belonged to a  doctor. Retired. Who had another 27 in the garage.

I prepared myself for the blast, I knew he'd give me a long and tedious speech but something happens in his mind and he, probably confused by the guilders, gave me another half a chance to redeem myself:

"Man, how many beers can you buy from your salary? But you know, the good one, Heineken for example"

Now, in Holland, beer is both cheap and comes in small bottles (normal for the western part, ridiculously small for the East Europe + Germany). That makes it even cheaper per bottle.

"About four thousand".
"Oh my God, man! Don't you ever come back!"
And this is how I regained society's respect. 


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