I met the meanest woman in the world on cruise ship.
David and I were sitting in a near-empty onboard restaurant after an afternoon cooking class, and had a jovial group of fellow classmates seated with us -- new friends from all over the world.
Yes, we were a bit loud.
Yes, we were critiquing the food -- we had prepared it, after all -- and, I was being exceptionally snarky. The portion that I had created was simply pathetic. Not only was it ugly, it was so poorly put together that it wasn’t possible to transport it from plate to mouth, so tasting wasn’t even possible (likely for the best).
And, yes, we were having a blast.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a tidbit of the class we took:
About three quarters through our meal, a woman appeared at my side. There wasn’t a beat between my looking up to acknowledge her and her spewing out, “You are a really rude person.”
I was floored. Hoping to just make her go away, I looked at her straight in the eye and said, “thank you,” and turned back to my new buddies.
Everyone had turned to look at me with wide eyes. No one knew how to react; the woman had effectively shut down our fun little impromptu party. Seconds later, I realized she was still standing at my elbow. Stupidly, I looked back at her.
“People like you are why people hate Americans. You are an ugly American.”
Let me tell you, it’s downright mortifying to be called out as an ugly American before a group of new international friends. Mustering up just enough breath to give (what I hoped would be) a dismissive second “thank you,” I again turned back to our party. Everyone sat still -- as dumbfounded as I was, unable to respond.
Did she stop there? Not by a loooooong shot.
She went on a long diatribe spelling out my faults. I honestly don’t remember what she said because by this point, I had shut down. I’d never had anything close to something like this happen to me -- before or since (this happened two years ago and I’ve just now worked up the nerve to write about it.)
So I thanked her again, and she finally, mercifully, left. She had run out of awful adjectives.
Our group hung around just long enough to make sure I was okay, but the fun bubble had been burst. David and I walked to the elevator with one of the members of our party. I’ll call him Charles.
Once the doors slid shut, David says to me, “I can’t believe I just sat there like a lump. I was so completely shocked by that woman, I couldn’t open my mouth to defend you. I feel horrible.”
Charles echoed the sentiment. “I’ve never seen anything like that, and I can tell you’re really shaken. I really wish I would have said something.”
It was all I could do at that point not to burst into tears, something that I always do when people are nice to me when I’m upset.
I think I muttered something like “it would have just made it worse.” Which I still firmly believe, but to this day I wish I had gotten in her face. I can never come up with a good zinger when I need it.
After a big ole see-you-later bear hug from Charles, I bolted to our stateroom and had a good cleansing cry. Then David and I tore into Ms. Caustic in that therapeutic way that needed to be done to make ourselves feel better:
We called her names. We thought up good comeback lines (better late than never.) We talked about stalking her and laying some of those comeback lines on her at an opportune time. We questioned her lineage.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling of humiliation. It followed me through dinner that night. I fell asleep thinking about it.
It followed me into Beijing and, it was even hanging in the back of my mind as David and I raced up the Great Wall.
I had let Ms. Caustic into my head. Why do I allow that?
That evening, we snagged a prime spot in the front of the ship at the huge, forward-facing windows overlooking the port.
Glasses of wine in hand, we chatted with the adorable family at the next table about the incredible things we had seen that day. The Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace -- places that we’d never thought see in our lifetime.
The teenagers of the group were dynamic as they excitedly told us of their Beijing adventures, and Mom and Dad were grinning from ear to ear.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ms. Caustic plop down nearby.
Not wanting to face her, I turned my attention to the windows, my back to the family and Ms. Caustic.
In the time that I finished my glass of wine (my leisurely sipping had become more like frat house chugging between my nerves and the urge to bolt) she had changed the whole dynamic of the adorable family’s conversation.
Starting in with all of the things she just hated about Beijing, she soon had them agreeing with her. It didn’t take long before the family was sniping at each other.
Ms. Caustic then ratcheted it up a notch. Masterfully, she played this family until the girl and her mother were full-on arguing before making a tearful exit.
Who does this sort of thing? What makes someone like this tick?
My only solace -- after two years of mulling Ms. Caustic over -- is that she has to have a miserable life.
And, ewwww, what terrible solace to have.
Author of Going Gypsy: One Couple's Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All
YOUR TURN: What DOES make someone like this tick? Have you ever encountered someone like this? Am I a horrible person to take comfort in her misery?