WHAT NATION OF SHOPKEEPERS? WE’RE ALL FRENCH WAITERS NOW
One day in Nice, Agnetha and I wandered along the Promenade after lunch and sat down on a wicker two-seater in the cafe/bar section of one of the beach restaurants. The waiter duly appeared and solicited our order. I wanted tea and asked if they had Earl Grey. Madame! he replied in haughty French Waiter tones (Agnetha and I in some disagreement as to which was more pompous, his voice or his chest), je suis specialist du vin! Pas specialist du thé!
Je suis anglaise, monsieur! my chest replied (and mine was bigger than his – just), je suis specialiste du thé!
He grimaced and went away, returning with an English Breakfast teabag, now oddly asking if this was OK, and whether I’d like him to bring to me the entire range of teabags they stocked at their establishment. (Which more than likely consisted of ‘used’ and ‘non-used’). No, I said, thank you, English Breakfast is fine. He smiled at my breasts (if a Frenchman had to pick me out of a line-up I’d be completely safe if you put me in a floor-length sack and left only my head showing) and made his way to a couple who had in the meantime sat down next to us. I think they were Dutch tourists. The pair asked for croissants. CROISSANTS???!!! CROISSANTS???!!! CROISSANTS ARE FOR BREAKFAST, MONSIEUR/MADAME!!! DO YOU WANT ME TO HEAT UP THE OVEN FOR TWENTY MINUTES JUST SO YOU CAN HAVE CROISSANTS IN THE AFTERNOON???!!!
But, this was France – worse than that, it was Nice, and you expect to get smacked about a bit should you have the temerity to order something in a restaurant which is not available. However, I strongly suspect a secret pact was entered into by Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel at the last G20 meeting, the terms of which stipulating that Sarkozy won’t suddenly knock Merkel on the head and give her a make-over whilst she’s unconscious* in return for Merkel allowing Sarkozy to export to the rest of Europe the fine art of French waitering.
*(Burn those fucking shapeless, cheap polyester jackets, Angela! I don’t care if the entire German rag trade goes bust, you don’t need 7,864 of the bloody ugly things. Aaarrrgghhhh!!! And I mean that in a kind and caring way.)
Cut to England, last Thursday. Coco and I were sitting in a cafe in my local town centre. We’d enjoyed lunch (at least I had) at my place, before deciding to take a walk along the river in the last of the day’s sunshine. Once in town we mooched around for a bit before choosing a cafe in which to take refuge from the elbows of the Christmas shoppers, Coco happy with her fruit juice, me with my pot of peppermint tea. However, one of the staff soon got out the mop and endeavoured to drown out our conversation by dragging chairs noisily along the tiled floor in the pretence of cleaning it. We got the idea, but since they’d very recently taken an extortionate amount of money off us for two drinks, we ignored the interference. After a while, me still with half a teapot’s worth of hot water, the woman behind the counter leaned forwards and shouted at us WE’RE CLOSED!!!
Oh! I said, mustering as much pique as I had remembered to stuff into the pockets of my non-polyester, shapely jacket. That’s nice. I need to use your bathroom. Is that closed too?
NO! came the barked response, though not in a friendly way. And so I got up and made my way to the bathroom.
There is obviously a secret button under the counter for difficult customers. I entered the bathroom and reached up to hang my handbag on the hook thoughtfully placed on the back of the toilet door. Where it stayed for precisely one quarter of a second before said hook spun around in spectacular fashion, depositing my handbag immediately onto the concrete floor with a heavy thud. (Lucky I didn’t have my favourite carton of fresh eggs with me, eh?)
Fast forward to today. Luke is over from Nice for the weekend. We met this morning for coffee at the National Film Theatre cafe on the Southbank. I ordered a hot chocolate, Luke perused the menu and asked for toast with marmalade. He was given a stick with a number on it for the waiter to deliver the order to our table. Ten minutes later the waiter appeared with Luke’s toast, along with a small dish of raspberry jam. Luke alerted the waiter to it not being the marmalade he had requested, the waiter replying that Luke would have to go to the counter to rectify the mistake. Luke went to the counter.
Twenty minutes passed during which Luke was absent from the table. Not a problem, I usefully engaged myself in designing a whole new wardrobe and make-up programme for some European leader or other. Luke returned to the table, sans marmalade. Another ten minutes passed before the waiter came, saying he would check to see if they had any marmalade. (The cafe blissfully unaware that it is the norm in major capital cities to stock in the kitchen items the menu entices the customer to order. ‘Toast with jam or marmalade’ generally meaning – obviously with certain exceptions – that toast with jam OR marmalade will be supplied should the customer request one or the other). Another five minutes of our lives ticked away. Luke got out his flight ticket and looked nervously at it, seeing that he only had another day and a half before he had to be at the airport. Waiter finally returned triumphantly with a tiny dish of a sticky orange substance. This is orange jam! he exclaimed! The other stuff was red jam!
Are they called waiters because you have to wait a long time? And if they’re French waiters, why can’t they hop to it a bit quicker?
Answers on an edible, orange postcard. Merci.
NB: Luke was very excited that I might write about this experience on my blog. But I’m not going to.