The Pecking Order

kara77aTravelling from Italy to Greece was easier by boat than by car, we were told, so my husband and I drove our VW van down “the boot” to Ancona on Italy’s east coast. In 1977, two ferries made the trip between Ancona and Patras, Greece: the Mediterranean Sea and the Mediterranean Sky of the Karageorgis Lines.

The images of these two ferries are credited to Bjorn Larsson. His very informative website is at: http://www.timetableimages.com/maritime/index.htm

To see the satellite image of the wreck of The Mediterranean Sky as she lies near Eleusis, west of Athens, click on the link:  http://goo.gl/maps/rndS8

To see photos of this same wreck, click on the link: http://www.artificialowl.net/2008/09/shipwreck-of-mediterranean-sky-formely.html

It was our good fortune to be on the Mediterranean Sea. We wanted to go third class, to save some money, but apparently third class was sold out already and if we wanted to make the trip we would have to pay for first class tickets.  Our van was safely parked on the car deck, and we checked into our cabin. Yes, we would have to sleep on the boat for two nights while the ship took us across the Adriatic Sea to Patras.

The cabin was small, but comfortable enough, with a little ensuite bathroom and shower. No Internet in those days so letter and postcard writing was still the usual way to communicate. As you can see I’m busily writing, “Wish you were here.”

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We hadn’t expected to have to buy first class tickets so we weren’t dressed up for dinner the way some of the guests were. We tried to sit by ourselves in our clean but casual clothes, however, the waiter asked us to sit with another couple and so make room for larger groups that came down for dinner. The other couple wore elegant clothes that told the world they were oozing money. They were NOT pleased to have two free-spirited tourist types sit next to them and, worse yet, presume to strike up a conversation with them. The man clenched his fists and teeth, while the woman sniffed and raised her nose into the air as she turned her face from us ever so slightly. We shrugged and smiled at each other, determined to enjoy our meal just the same.

But there came the rub. The waiter served everyone in the room before bringing us the leftovers on the platter. We got used to waiting a long time to be served at each meal, and always having little choice left. One time, it was extra bad. The waiter tried to give us the very last bits of hard, small pieces of French fries from the platter. At this point, my husband said in a disgusted tone, “Aw! Come on!” and the waiter whisked the platter away, hustled to the galley and was back in no time with a fresh platter of fries. We had been at the bottom of the pecking order until we complained. Fight back and you rise a bit from the bottom rung of the ladder.

One of the waiters was a swarthy type with hairy arms. We secretly referred to him as “the gorilla.” He was often our waiter and we watched for him as we waited and waited for our food. It seemed that nothing he did was good enough to please the suave-looking head waiter who was always berating him. We felt sorry for him and tried our best to be friendly and polite to him (except when he tried to serve us those tiny burnt chips).

On the second and last night of the crossing, after dinner, the lights went out and the waiters marched out into the dining room and stood in a line each with a flaming baked Alaska dessert on his arm. It looked impressive in the dark. After a round of applause from the guests, the lights came on again and the fires went out – all except for the gorilla’s. He puffed and blew on the flames as his baked Alaska was trying to bake his arm. My first thought was, “All that hair!” The head waiter, Mr. Nasty Suave, came to his rescue, dousing his “Sleeve Flambé” and all but grabbing him by the ear, dragged him into the galley where I’m sure he got a dressing down.

Again, we felt so sorry for the poor gorilla. He was definitely at the bottom of the pecking order.

The next morning we were asked to vacate our rooms very early (around 8 a.m.), so the cabins could be prepared for the guests who would be boarding for the return trip to Italy. We would be arriving in Patras shortly. It was hot and hazy and we were excited to get our first glimpse of Greece.

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But then we learned that there was to be quite a wait while the tugs moved another ship out of the way and then moved us into position to nudge us into the quay for disembarking.

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Finally it was our turn, but things were still moving very slowly, and we were craving a cup of coffee or some little bite of breakfast. After all, it was getting nearer to lunchtime.

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While the tug was nudging us towards shore, we stood in the lounge, waiting, and waiting with many of the other passengers. The gorilla was wiping glasses with a white cloth. Then he took a damp rag and wiped the top of the bar. I thought maybe I could get a coffee so I went over to ask.

“I know it’s not included in the fare and I’m prepared to pay. Do you think we could get two cups of coffee, please?”

His answer was quick and brutal. “Bar’s closed!” and without making eye contact he kept on wiping the bar.

I guess he would be a survivor in his world. He would work his way up the ranks. Then someday he would (sadly) lord it over some other poor unfortunate fellow — the new guy at the bottom of the pecking order.

23 thoughts on “The Pecking Order

  1. Lovely share of years gone by… I wonder if one still gets waiters like that.?? I wouldn’t think so the way these ships advertise and price today…

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    • I think a lot of the action was based on remnants of a class system and growing up in North America, we’d had no personal experience with it before. It wasn’t race-based (which would be unforgivable); it was definitely class-based discrimination (which I find very annoying and insulting).

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  2. Had a look at the two links you gave… how sad a ship get abandoned to list and fall over like that… will probably become just one big rust bucket…

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    • Thanks Kristin. The seagull photo was taken by a neighbour, Paul Knettig. His camera is very good and he knows how to use it. Something for me to strive for. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the use of this photo. Glad you like it.

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  3. Interesting adventure. Aw, yes, the pecking order. It’s probably not as pronounced today, but never-the-less still there. Thanks for sharing this.

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  4. Geez, it’s not like you paid for 3rd class and got bumped to first. You paid for first class. I think I could’ve handled it for 2 days, but any longer and I would’ve shown them about pecking order. Heh. Your adventures are fun to read.

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    • It took us a while to realize it wasn’t our imagination, but by then the trip was over. We were clean and neat, just not dressed fancy. We were in our regular casual clothes. Some of these people were in long white dresses and suits. It was only a ferry ride, for heaven’s sake!

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  5. Don’t mess with Gary’s french fries..ever!! The snooty couple..wonder if they know you could buy and sell them today:)
    It was an awesome experience for you ..great that you found the old photos.

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    • You’re exactly right about Gary and his potatoes. **chuckling** That hasn’t changed in 36 years since we made that trip. The photos were slides we took back then and I’ve had them in carousels, but I noticed that some of them were deteriorating and I wanted to save them, so bought an Epson V500 scanner that does slide conversion to digital and except for a bit of dust and scratches, the slides are coming out not too badly, considering their age.

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  6. Pecking orders not only exist among humans but also among animals. Only you should think that humans are smarter than animals. I think those snobs at your table were overdressed and you were dressed just like people who travel for a long time. Thats how we travelled and still do.

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  7. Yes, of course. That’s where the term “pecking order” comes from. Chickens who step out of their place in the line of importance get pecked. I agree, humans should know better! It was really kind of funny to see how these “uppity” people dressed up on a ferry ride and thought they were something special. We certainly were having more fun than they were.

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  8. Anneli, what choice writings!

    I cannot believe that you paid for first class and got lower than third class service. This is extremely foul. I think you handled it well. Really, REALLY do clothes say so much? No.

    I’m actually really upset for you! I mean, you didn’t even want first class.

    Love how you described the gorilla 🙂

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    • This was such a long time ago, but I kept notes in a journal and it’s amazing how a few keywords brings back the taste and smells and feelings. It’s quite sad that clothes say so much. But it’s really true.

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