Dave's crisis in Canada....
© David Volk


Quick, somebody tell me which fork to use to eat this strawberry concoction.

Is it from the inside out or the outside in? And does it matter that the forks are on the right side of the plate rather than the left?

I know whichever I choose, it will be wrong. It’s been a curse I’ve faced ever since I took my older sister to lunch at Rosie O’Grady’s in Pensacola, Florida and used the wrong fork on my salad. Normally, I wouldn’t have cared about such things, but the busboy who obviously thought I was out on a date decided to show me up by making a big deal of taking the fork I’d used off my plate and replacing it with the unused salad fork as if to say, “take that you uncouth journalist who will some day grow up to be thrown out of a fancy restaurant.”

Hey, what do you expect from a guy who spent most of his early career eating at Taco Bells, Furrs Cafeterias and supping on Double Beef Whoppers with mustard, ketchup and heavy pickles only? I mean, when you eat at a cafeteria you use the silverware you picked up in the order you need it, regardless of where you put it.

Since then I’ve never been sure what fork to use when and, as a result, in recent years, I’m constantly getting yelled at by my wife because she doesn’t like the way I set the table.

Which is why I’m sitting here at The Empress Hotel’s high tea in Victoria, British Columbia, paralyzed with fear that I may pick the wrong utensil to eat my strawberry whip cream concoction. I should point out that I have no intention of making a scene, but I have to wonder if I will get thrown out for choosing the wrong fork.

The place is everything you would expect a place that served high tea to be. Elegant. Understated. Hushed conversation. Hardwood floors covered by a colorful print rug. A piano playing at just the right volume. It is the kind of place where waiters walk guests to their tables, pull back diner’s chairs for them to sit in, then gently place a napkin in each patron’s lap. Big trays. Little sandwiches. A view of the Inner Harbor.

The Christmas trees are a bit unfortunate, but at least they aren’t spilling with presents the way they would be in the States.

Scones. Shortbread. Creamery butter. Lumps of sugar. Big pots of tea. All of which I’m sure I’ll make a complete mess of once they bring them to my table. Which is the kind of guy I am. I can dress myself up, but I can’t take myself out.

Beautiful china. Real silverware.

Which takes me back to the issue at hand. The question of which fork to use. Inside or outside? If the way things have been going on this press tour are any indication, I will probably choose wrong again.

It has been that type of day so far. A sleepless night followed by a cold, stormy morning. I made it to the Victoria Clipper on time, but choppy water in the Harbor here kept the boat from arriving on time and at the appointed place. Instead, it was diverted to Sidney, B.C. where we had to wait until our luggage was offloaded, then we walked in blustery weather to a bus where we waited for our luggage to be loaded on. Next, we rode to Victoria, half an hour away where our bags were unloaded and sniffed by dogs while we waited another half hour. (Apparently, this is a service that Canada provides for free.) I was supposed to kayak today with a fellow writer and a guide, but the journalist chickened out. I was told the kayak guide was still willing to go, though, so, adventurer that I am, I gamely agreed to go only to have him cancel, leaving me with nothing to do for the afternoon. After that I decided to walk to Chinatown, but left without my raincoat, then had to go back to my hotel once it started raining. By then I was so disgusted that I just decided to come here where I am now faced with this dilemma.

Figuring this is the first smart choice I’ve made all day, I’m going to bravely pick up the outside fork and have at it…..

From a distance, my waitress has nodded approvingly. Like Indiana Jones, I have chosen wisely.

Bring on the tartlets, puny pastries, crustless sandwiches and funky finger food!

I’m ready! Let the tea begin!

From one of her majesty’s far flung outposts,

David Volk