I suffered an incredibly long “awkward pause” yesterday and I’m still cringing from the stupidity of it all. Here’s how it happened. My department is holding interviews for potential students to come to the various labs to do PhDs. But the scholarships they’re offering are quite good so something like 400 people applied for the 8 -10 positions. So, they’ve narrowed it down to about twenty who were invited to come give talks on their work so far, meet the lab leaders and see the department.
So during yesterday we had a steady stream of incredibly nervous/frightened/tired students coming through the lab waiting to speak to the boss. I tried to engage them in some small chat to take their mind off things and to relax a little. That’s when it happened:
Student: I’m here for an interview with the professor, is he free?
Me: It’ll be two minutes, I think he’s still talking to another student. Take a seat and it won’t be too long.
Student: You have a great view from the window.
Me: Ah yeah, you can see Germany over there, France over there and that’s the back of a prison! So have you travelled far…?
That’s where it all went pear shaped as I thought she was from Germany. Of course, the Russian-English dictionary, the thick Russian accent and the fact she was called Olga should have given it away. But no, that would be too bloody smart on my part.
Student: Yes, I come from Siberia, I spent two days on the train from my home, then I waited for one week in Moscow for my visa, then I flew to Zurich and got the train here last night.
Me: Ahhh, right so…
Cue complete silence and me wanting the ground to open up! I hope she gets something because it’s an awful long way to come for a polite refusal.