In July of 1976 I was one of a six-member team that was surveying pipe-shop operations in certain European shipyards. Bob Oglesby, a gentleman among gentlemen from Newport News, had not been feeling well and had passed up a number of opportunities to enjoy some excellent restaurants. We had already been to La Coruña in the northwest of Spain and Italy’s Trieste. Bob was at last feeling better and up to trying an underground restaurant in the old part of Copenhagen. So independent of the other team members, he and I descended on the edge of a cobblestone square and walked through a candle-lit tunnel for what might have been the length of a city block.

We entered a dining room that seemed to be carved out of stone. Dark-wood tables that seated four or six were arranged throughout the center and tables that accommodated couples were spaced less than two-feet apart along the walls. At each small table, a chair faced the wall and a common bench against each wall provided seating that faced the room.

The place was not yet a third full, thus Bob and I were surprised, to say the least, when the maitre d’ seated us next to a beautiful, stylishly-dressed, young women who seemed to be dining alone. Bob had the chair and I was sitting on the bench almost shoulder to shoulder with her. The closest other people were four tables away. Even if we whispered, she would hear what we would say to each other. I felt that it was awkward for all of us.

I broke the ice by saying while offering my card, “Are you really having dinner alone? If so please join our conversation.”

She handed each of us a card that announced that she was the manager in charge of sales in all of Scandinavia for an Italian tile company. She was pleased with the invitation to talk to two Americans and the subsequent conversation disclosed that she was knowledgeable about many subjects. She was as smart as she was attractive.

Before long I asked, “What is it like in Scandinavia for an obviously beautiful, intelligent, and vivacious young Italian?”

Her reply rates as a classic and was accompanied by the most impressive use of hands and eyes that I, even with my Italian heritage, had ever seen. She said, “Here in Denmark the men are not very stylish, they are not good conversationalists, and they drink a lot. Across the water in Sweden, and also in Norway, they are less stylish, they are less good at conversation, and they drink even more. In Finland, forget about style, they don’t even talk to each other, and they drink more than all the rest put together!”

Nine-years later while a member of a team that was surveying the use of robots for shipbuilding, at separate dinners hosted by managers of Helsinki’s Wartsilla and Valmet shipyards, I told the Finns what was said about them. Both times our hosts slammed the table and said, “She’s right!”

The Finns were proud of their reputation.


Copyright © 2006 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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