Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vive la (in)différence

Ah, yes...the French waiter.  We had many meals in France, some really good, some really bad, but on the average the food was quite tasty.  But the service was, ahhh...unique.  There was a pattern that repeated over and over.  We would be seated and wait.  Drinks would be ordered.  Water was not a given.  You had to ask, and even then it was likely to be bottled (not free).  If you did get it in a pitcher or caraffe, it would not be refilled when empty, no matter how long you sat there.  Ice with your drinks?  Not likely.

Then, after quite a while, food orders would get taken and written down, typically on a little pad of paper like here in the US (or maybe on a PDA looking thing).  Now waiters here, even in the normal restaurant, will write the orders down so that they know who gets what plate when it is delivered.  I have never been a waiter, but there must be a system they use.

Apparently that has never made it over the 'pond'.  The food would eventually show up and the waiter would ask, in French of course, who had the [insert some French words here of mystery] platter?  Heck, we could barely read the menu to know what we wanted much less pronounce it an hour later.  So this comedy would proceed meal after meal.  Order with vague for meaning at food delivery time.  It was amusing and annoying all at the same time.  The only thing that would have made it better was for the waiter to be a mime.  Marcel Marceau, where are you when we needed you?

"No, Monsieur American customer...I have no idea what you ordered, nes pa?"

The other thing I noticed was the, well, not rudeness really, just indifference.  You out of bread?  Need water?  Want your plates cleared away?  "I do not care, nes pa?"  Apparently.  Tons of impersonal attention going on here.  Truly odd.  In one eatery we made an error in ordering and ended up with an extra meal of pasta.  No biggy.  We will take it back to the guys in the mechanics truck.  I asked for a to go box.  You would think I requested the Holy Grail.  Really?  Maybe they do not do 'take-out' in France.

The nice thing was a much more relaxed approach to the meal.  They took a long time and no one seemed to be in a hurry to get you out of the table space.  Kinda' cool and I wish that was more common these days.  It does make for long lines for the next customer though.

So all in all, one can expect food equal to a fine eatery and service equal to a bad cafeteria.  Does the government run the food services?  Very civil servant like.  In France, Burger King says "Have it our way".  Want to know where all the French waiters were trained?  At the American Department of Motor Vehicles.  I could go on, but I feel the need to be ignored and pay for the privilege.  I am heading to the Post Office for a cappuccino.


Fonk said...

Over in Europe good service is rated much differently. Over there they don't wish to be interrupted during their meals/conversations, so waiters don't stop by and ask, "how is everything?" like they do here, nor constantly monitor your bread and drink levels. It's expected that if you need more of something, you'll flag the waiter down and ask. That's just how it is there. I actually kind of enjoyed it, as I often think servers here bother me way too much.

Guitar Ted said...

Funny stuff. I am enjoying this series. TNI needs to send you out of the country more often!

In defense of the water/ice thing- That is nearly, (or was), European wide. The thing is, in the Old Country, the water was often not potable, so wine, beer, or coffee was often all you could get that was safe to drink. Then too, refrigeration was not always a given, so anything that needed to be cold may not have been available either, thus no ice.

My Dad related that to me from his time spent in Europe in the 50's serving in the military.

grannygear said...

@Fonk. Yeah, I got that too. Just a cultural disparity. Funny though.

@GT. Well, they have freezers and ice makers now, don't they?