We stayed in Rye in the Mermaid Inn, a hotel that was “re-built in 1420” on the site of the 11th century original, and whose previous guests included Queen Elizabeth I, Charlie Chaplin and Johnny Depp, though not at the same time. Rye was the home of Henry James, but otherwise is an interesting place. I was in a postgraduate group for a year where several were doing theses on Henry James. I found him a little dull before, but that year made him into the world’s most boring writer for me.
Anyway, the hotel was a “mid-week deal” with 4 course dinner. The first night, they had an American tour party of about 20 to 30 people on their last day … a clever tour company actually, as Rye is beautiful and it’s only 45 minutes from Gatwick. There were three couples in the restaurant including us when the tour party came in for dinner. Now I’ve never seen this before … the tour guide loudly announced that he would say Grace and proceeded to do so for more than five minutes with his whole party standing. This is embarrassing if you’re sitting eating at the next table, as you feel constrained to stop talking. The waitress halfway to our table with hot soup didn’t know whether to stop or go on … she waited a minute, decided it was getting cold, and went on. Anyway, it was very long, full volume and unbelievably pious. When it finished, people thanked him profusely, and at first I thought they were saying “Thank you, dear Lord.” But it transpired that the man’s name was Gaylord. Not a name you’d get away with in England, especially wearing a pink shirt.
The next morning over breakfast, we were all pissed off, because the party had got up at five, departed at six and as they were 95% of the guest list had made no attempt to be quiet, and had the tour bus reversing up the narrow cobbled street at 5.30 going “Beep Beep Beep”. I’ve rarely if ever seen the English and Germans united on many subjects involving nationality, but the other two tables (English and German) had a pretty fervent anti-American discussion going which the staff joined in with. It’s rare to see different tables break into spontaneous conversation at breakfast. The consensus (which I agree with) was that it was bloody rude to do a loud standing grace in a public restaurant, as the hotel had lounges where they’d been before the meal where it could have been done in privacy. In all my travels, I haven’t seen such an intrusive bit of mass public piety before. Am I wrong?