Cuckoo charmers

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Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of iCorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

How many times have you travelled to India? Is it still perceived as the land of snake charmers on your side of the world? Ever tried Mughlai cuisine?

I have travelled to India many times and seen the excesses of maharajas in Rajasthan as well as the destitution of the slums in Calcutta. It would be absurd for anyone to perceive the nation as a land of snake charmers! None of my Indian friends are snake charmers, although all of them have a great tendency to shake their head from side to side, as if getting ready to play a wind instrument in order to charm a cobra or viper. Snakes probably cannot hear music but they react to the movement of the charmer’s head and musical instrument. So if I have to resort to stereotyping, I would perceive the Indian race not so much as snake charmers but head shakers, whose habit, especially in approbation, is rather disconcerting.

Maybe this is calculated to mask astute minds, for Indians are very skilled businessmen and we are always at a disadvantage not to know if they mean yes or no. Little wonder the Swiss banking authority reckons that in their land of cuckoos rather than snakes, there are half-a-trillion dollars of hidden money belonging to Indians. Apparently 25,000 of them visit Zurich or Geneva some months, yet Indian skiers are not exactly ubiquitous on the slopes, so it is fairly safe to surmise that they have gone to check on their moolah.

Of course I have tried Mughlai cuisine, of which the chicken tikka masala is an example. It is well known that it is the most popular dish in Britain! When Robin Cook was foreign secretary, he called it a “true British national dish”. However, I prefer the Mughlai korma, which has less of a potency for causing halitosis.

A friend informed me that there are only three sports; hunting, fishing and shooting; the rest are merely games, like rugby and the Olympics. Was he correct?

I suppose this is more to emphasise the British snobbery of identifying these pursuits for a gentleman than an accurate definition of sport. Indeed, a real gent is supposed to possess a distinct sense of sportsmanship that stresses participation more than winning. Therefore, the Brits always seem to be content with not coming first, which is the sine qua non for a game, but regard the efforts put in as more important. Coming fourth or fifth in Britain is not necessarily regarded as a shameful result, and even commendable so long as “one has done one’s very best”. It’s either the stiff upper lip or simply a low threshold of satisfaction.

Maybe this attitude will change given the last Olympics in London, in which many Britons excelled, and correspondingly cheered. Whether it is a good thing that winning a medal is more important than participation remains to be seen. All I would say is that the Olympics have become far from an arena for amateurs and all the opening and closing ceremonies are increasingly vulgar and irrelevant to sports or games. If I were an Olympian, I would hate to come from a country starting with an early letter of the alphabet, like Albania, as that would mean standing around much longer than others!

What annoys you in a restaurant most?

By far the most annoying practice is whenever one is in conversation, especially when just about to come to the climax of an anecdote or the punchline of a joke, an idiotic waiter leans over and asks you if you’d like your water still or sparkling! This never fails to spark me off into a rage because it invariably happens in a fancy restaurant where they charge you like the Light Brigade, and waiters are supposed to have been professionally trained to attend to their guests with the highest standards. Yet interrupting a conversation in full flow is bad service at its zenith.

Equally bad is when waiters take your napkin and unfold it into a triangle before splashing it gayly across your lap as if we seem incapable of carrying out this exercise ourselves! As for the sheer torture of telephoning to make a reservation, I have long since given up because nowadays we the customers are treated like Daleks speaking eternally to an automated voice, or bill-dodgers having to provide in advance details of one’s credit card from which they could levy, outrageously, a cancellation charge. I wouldn’t want to eat at these tiresome establishments even if they offered manna on their daily blackboards!

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