It’s no secret that I think there are too many “expert’ guests on the TV Shopping Channels. I once proved that a well-informed host could sell more than a host with a guest, but management ignored the test. It seems too many of my peers didn’t want to put in the time necessary to speak intelligently about a product.
One time, I had to travel halfway around the world to avoid working with an on-air guest. When we sold Swiss Army Knives on QVC, I was chosen as the host. I was the only host who had carried a Swiss Army Knife for most of my life. The shows were going to be done without a guest, but I had to go to Switzerland to see how they were made. Tough duty, but someone had to do it.
When I arrived at the Wenger Swiss Army Knife factory in Delemont, Switzerland, I was given a comprehensive tour. I had carried a Swiss Army Knife for years and was fascinated to see all the craftsmanship and technology that went into making one. It took all day, but I felt I had enough information to do a show without a guest.
I learned that there are 2 companies in Switzerland that made Swiss Army Knives. Along with Wenger, which is located in the French region of Switzerland, the knives are also made by a company named Victorinox, located in Switzerland’s German region. Each company made exactly half of the government order for knives. Privately, they were free to compete as they choose. (Wegner was acquired by Victorinox in 2005.)
Delemont is a charming town. I stayed right across the street from the factory in an upscale youth hostel. No air conditioning, but each room had a private bath and an honor bar refrigerator. It was summer and temperatures were in the 90’s. I remember keeping the refrigerator door open to try to stay cool.
One of my most vivid memories is sitting on the bed, wearing just my shorts and drinking a dark beer, which, even in the youth hostel, cost about $12.00 in American currency from the honor bar. I was watching TV. They were showing the Arlo Guthrie film “Alice’s Restaurant.” Although Delemont is in the French speaking section on Switzerland, the film was dubbed in German, except for most of the music. They did dub the title song and it was pretty funny listening to the lyrics of “Sie erhalten alles, was sie wollen, zu Alice’s Restaurant.”
One night, I headed out to hopefully find an air-conditioned restaurant in Delemont. I came across a little European cafe that looked terrific and appeared to be very heavily air conditioned. I walked in and decided to order what I assumed was the special of the day, since it was written on the blackboard inside. It said Poisson, which is French for fish. The entire menu was in French. I pointed to the special when the waitress arrived. She was very nice but didn’t speak too much English.
I didn’t understand much of what the waitress said, but I should have paid attention to her head movements. She kept shaking her head back and forth. I was a stranger in a strange land and was just happy that she understood it when I pointed to Bordeaux on the wine list. She left with my order, but was still muttering to herself as she walked away. Although now I’m sure it was about my failure to heed her warning, but back then I thought it was just something the Swiss people did.
She came back to the table and put the plate in front of me. Great looking sautéed vegetables, mashed potatoes and two sautéed goldfish. Yep, I found out later that goldfish, or carp as they are also called, are a delicacy in that part of Europe. There were two whole dead goldfish, each about 3 inches long, staring up at me from the plate. They looked like most of the goldfish I had as a child, after they had died and I found them floating at the top of their bowl in the morning.
Okay, I’m game to try new things. I speared a small piece of goldfish on my fork and gave it a try. It tasted like very, very salty leather with kind of a raw sewage aftertaste. (How I know what raw sewage tastes like is a mystery to me.) The veggies were great. I ate them and some of the mashed potatoes. Not wanting to insult the waitress and chef, I hid the goldfish under the remaining mashed potatoes. It was a trick I pulled as a kid when I didn’t want to eat something. It worked then, why not now?
When the waitress returned, she looked at me, smiled, snapped something off in French, took my plate and left. I assumed she was going to bring the check. Of course I was wrong! She returned with another full plate. More veggies, potatoes and two more dead goldfish. Oh dear Lord, it was all-you-can-eat goldfish! Thank God for the Bordeaux!
Again, I ate the veggies and hid the goldfish under the potatoes. Even after two glasses of Bordeaux, I did not have a taste for salty leather. This time when the waitress came to the table, I made what I hoped was the universal “no more” sign by waving my hands over the plate and saying “No!” I made the check signing motion with my hands. She understood, took the plate and brought back the check.
I learned an important lesson that day. Pay attention to body language! It can save you a lot of trouble. Other than goldfish, I still like seafood. But I never order a whole fish anymore.
Back at the Q, the shows went very well, with most products selling out almost every time they were aired. No guest! I’m enough of a klutz that I cut myself during almost every show, but did a good enough job of hiding the bleeding hand that no one knew. And I got really adept at opening and closing a Swiss Army Knife with one hand.
The photo is the knife the vendor gave me back in the early 1990’s. I still carry it today. Back then, Pre 9/11, you could carry a knife on an airplane if it had a blade 4 inches long or shorter. The increased TSA regulations caused the Wenger airport stores to close, substantially cutting their income. It was a primary reason they were eventually acquired by rival Victorinox.
© 2019 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.