Unlike a lot of lawyers, I’m not much of a traveler. My practice doesn’t take me that far away and school obligations and sports schedules tend to limit extended trips. Until this last April I had not been out of the continental United States in more than thirty-five years. In fact, except for a Peace Corps stint after college, I had never been out of the country. The furthest extent of my travels outside of New Haven have pretty much consisted of the St. Aedan’s apple picking trip at Bishop’s Orchards to the East, annual attendance at the Humidity Festival in Evansville, Indiana, to the West, spring training trips to Lakeland, Florida, to the South and, because I always forgot to book ahead for parents’ weekend, the Syracuse airport motel to the North. I customarily traveled to these destinations in an station wagon overcrowded with juvenile passengers who took great delight in pushing me to a Captain Queeg-like mania on the mornings of our departures before we even finished gassing up at the nearest Hess station.
This April, though, was going to be different. My daughter, Tina, was spending the spring semester of her Junior Year in Spain. Diane and I would visit her, mark her linguistic progress, and revel in her maturity and independence. And so, the Mrs. and I, together with our good friends, Leo and Kathleen Cooney, set out for “The Continent”.
I am, as noted, unschooled in international travel. The Cooney’s, fortunately, know what they’re doing. They were willing to lead each of us by the hand across the Iberian Peninsula. We obtained passports, bought a camera, and packed our bags. Concerned about theft I took only one credit card. We left everything else to the well-traveled and knowledgeable Cooneys.
We were in good hands. They led. We followed. Seville in Holy Week. Cordoba. Granada. The Alhambra. The Prado and evading Gypsy thieves in Madrid. We did it all. Just like they write about in The New York Times Travel Section.
The highlight, though, came in Madrid. Tina was hosted by a fantastic, warm and loving Spanish family, the Salors, who treated her better in one semester than we had in twenty years. Father, mother, a preteen daughter and younger twin girls. They had made her part of their family. She went to their weddings, birthday parties and vacation trips. As parents we couldn’t ask for more.
We knew, going over, that we were indebted. We brought gifts, of course, but we wanted—and Tina wanted us---to do more. She asked us to invite her new family out to dinner. And so, on the night before we left Madrid we joined them at a restaurant of their choosing.
It was a marvelous time. There was us, the Cooneys, Tina and a student friend, and the Salor family. Eleven in all. We laughed. We ate. We gossiped. We spoke in Spanish. We spoke in English. We spoke with our hands. They obviously liked our daughter. We were grateful. They knew it. We knew they knew it. It couldn’t have been better.
Toward the end of the meal, Javier, the father, who speaks perfect English, tells me how much he appreciates our invitation but, he insists, this is his country and we are his guests. It is his pleasure to treat all of us to this dinner.
Now, this wasn’t picking up a couple of lattes at Willoughbys. There were eleven people, all of whom I had invited. The tab would be substantial. Besides, and this was the real clincher, Tina had been adamant from day one that we should treat. She let us know that anything short of this would ruin her entire visit to Spain and embarrass her greatly. We, of course, were willing to and wanted to pay.
But Javier’s offer presents an uncomfortable situation. I cannot insult my daughter’s host by refusing his hospitality. But neither can I upset my daughter and ruin, from her perspective, her stay in Spain. It is clear that I have to pay. But how to do this without insulting and embarrassing our hosts.
This was not going to be easy. As a lawyer I have negotiated plea bargains in murder cases, mediated acrimonious family disputes and extracted clients from contempt citations before wild-eyed judges. Nothing was as difficult. The delegates to The Hague Convention have nothing on me. But I succeed.
I appreciate, I explain, your generosity, Javier. I do not wish to insult you in any way, please understand. But you know my daughter. You know how sensitive she is. She has insisted that this should be our treat. She has lived with you now for many months. You know how upset she will be. Please, please, accept my hospitality. It will mean so much to her and to us to be able to express our gratitude in this way.
It took some doing. But Javier is a gentleman. He is also a father. He understands. Reluctantly he agrees. I am relieved. And I am especially pleased with how deftly and skillfully I have resolved this dilemma. Maybe I haven’t traveled all that much, I’m thinking, but people are people wherever you go.
I signal the waiter. He brings the check. I present my card. The waiter pauses. He proceeds to inform me, in English, “We do not, Senor, accept American Express”.
It’s like getting a bad verdict after trying a great case. So much for my travels on The Continent. From now on, like the Cooneys, I’m bringing a Visa Card.