He had been told what to expect. "She's very exacting," his sister had said. "She hand-picks who gets to stay at her castle - even though they're supposed to allow anyone who's doing the organic farming program - and once you're there, there are rules."
"What kind of rules?" he'd said.
"Oh, you know," she'd said vaguely. "She hates the word 'blanket.' Things like that. You'll see."
When the contessa walked into the room, swathed in a cashmere cape and trailed by a great dane, the atmosphere changed. Everyone sat up straighter. Everyone save a 19-year-old Canadian who had been placed at the castle when his host home flooded, and didn't seem to understand that he was being accorded an honor.
The contessa managed the conversation. At her request, someone recited an oration in Greek. Someone else recounted a French fable. She would ring a small silver bell between courses and an unobtrusive pair of servants would clear silently. Everyone was too on edge to eat much - everyone, that is, but the Canadian 19-year-old.
There was a lull in the conversation. The contessa raised her hand, clearly prepared to conduct the evening's next movement. And then, to everyone's horror, the Canadian 19-year-old opened his mouth.
"So this one time, my cousin -" he began.
"BO-RING!" warbled the contessa. "No one wants to hear about your cousin!"
"But, my cousin-"
"No!" she trilled, holding up a detaining hand.
He left the next day. The rest of the guests performed a Moliere farce.