Decision making in a group whose members don't know each other very well gets easily swayed by the dominant personality and gender. The decisive overcomes the indecisive. The powerful and assertive types dominate the flexible types.
Although I preferred to stay nearby and walk to Shepherd's Market, that secret pedestrian area of fine restaurants in Mayfair, my two male friends were tempted by a Portuguese lady's suggestion of visiting a pub on a boat on River Thames.
At my colleague's insistence, we hopped in a black cab to meet her. On our way there, I imagined competition with a capital C --- a slim, tall woman with curly long dark hair, mesmerising eyes, thick lips, and husky voice. She would be wearing a cleavage-revealing silk top and a figure-hugging miniskirt showing off her shapely legs and painted toenails. I predicted the twenty-something woman to monopolise all attention with her flirtatious taunts, forcing me to retreat backstage.
When she finally appeared, I was relieved that she was not at all like what I imagined. We did, however, follow her into a crowded pub on a boat full of loud men. My anxiety about this potentially claustrophobic explosion showed on my face. Sensing it, my colleague quickly bought me one of my favourite summer drinks --- Pimms.
After a while we moved into the warmed seats of guests who were just leaving. Once comfortably seated, we soaked in the sun setting on the familiar landscape of South Bank and Westminster. It was not bad at all. Despite the loud voices and music, at least I felt a sense of belonging.
No one appeared to second my suggestion of having dinner at the Spanish tapas bar on the adjacent boat. Instead, we walked to Somerset House only to find that the restaurant closed 30 minutes before.
At this point, the Portuguese lady said that she knew a good restaurant on the Strand. Feeling quite starved and stranded at nine o'clock, we followed her to an Italian restaurant called "Stranded in London."
By then I had gotten used to my international group of four. It reminded me of my conferencing days when I'd go out with other delegates to a restaurant on impulse. As strangers, everyone was more or less flexible and indecisive, which meant, of course, that somebody had to take the lead.
I asked the first waitress who appeared if she spoke Italian. The fake blonde apologised, "No. Very little. I'm Russian." For me, Italian speaking waiters and waitresses signified authenticity. Finally I overheard a young dark-haired woman speak English with an Italian accent. She was from Tuscany, the same area where my colleague considered his second or third home. What a joy it was to hear them converse in Italian! Viva Italia!
After a sumptuous meal of spicy calamari for starters and linguine alla vongole accompanied by excellent white wine, I was ready for my absolute preference of a dessert --- tiramisu. I told my dinner mates that at Italian restaurants, I always choose carpaccio for starters, linguine alla vongole, and tiramisu whenever they are available.
The restaurant owner Marco Arquati, a Londoner of Italian parents, apologised for not being able to speak Italian. What he lacked in Italian, he made up in service. About midnight, Marco offered us liquors on the house. My colleague chose lemoncello, the Portuguese lady chose grappa, and my conversation partner in Green Park left us to catch a train.
I chose sambuca. Not a normal one, but a flaming one. Flaming sambuca. That's what my evening was --- an exotic cocktail of spontaneous decisions, intoxicating conversations, and exciting personalities from England, Portugal, and Sweden.
30 July 2004 Friday