Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Bon Soir, Je m'appelle Caleb

    Well, that worked like a charm. As you might recall, my last post was a plea for American voters to do the right thing. They responded with a resounding “Get Bent” and day after tomorrow we’re going to inaugurate the odds on favorite for worst President ever. As a Pennsylvanian born and raised this is good news as he will undoubtedly supplant fellow native son James Buchanan, the current title holder. And from now on this blog will no longer concern itself with American politics. This does not mean, however, that I’ve given up bitching and whining about the state of the world,  I just won’t be doing as much here. To that end, I’ve launched a new blog, a companion you might say, to this platform called “The Rockefeller Democrat” and it can be found by clicking a link somewhere over there on the right.

    We now return you to this blog’s regularly scheduled content.

    The other day one of our friends posted to Facebook (that is to say one of our “real” friends and not a “friend” I’ve never laid eyes on) an article from the New York Daily News by a travel writer who had visited Paris. For those not familiar Big Apple newspapers consist of the Times, Daily News and Post. The Post is aimed at people who can’t read without moving their lips and the Daily News is for those who lack that skill but read on the same or slightly higher level. I read the Times. Anyway, a visit to the Louvre found her quickly succumbing to boredom after taking a few selfies with the Mona Lisa, so I guess you couldn’t expect she’d be impressed with any of the rest of the town. She provided a few obligatory denunciations of snooty Paris waiters and restaurants then happily provided glowing reviews of a couple of places that provided the type of cuisine she couldn’t have swung a cat without hitting on the Lower East Side - which brings me to the point.

    A New Yorker bitching about rudeness in Paris like a Floridian going off on the humidity in Louisiana. We’ve encountered the stereotypical Parisian waiter exactly once and that was on a trip long before we moved here. Maybe that’s just been our luck but allow me to compare and contrast the French and American restaurant experience anyway.

    One of the big things about dining out in France is that you never have to tip anyone. Tipping in the U.S. has gotten so out of hand that I half expect to see "TIPS" jars in funeral parlors. The French take care of this in a couple of ways, first, unlike in the U.S., by paying restaurant workers a decent wage. "Service" is then added to your check so waiters aren't completely at the mercy of every overbearing tightwad and you're spared the arithmetic. As a result, most of these people are at the very least competent and for some it's actually a career. Not long ago Cynthia and I ate in a place we had been to on our first trip to Bordeaux about 6 years ago and everyone working there was someone we’d seen the last time. 

    In contrast, for most American restaurant workers it’s usually their first job or last resort. Some years back we used to patronize a chain of Tex-Mex places, one of which was in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. On what turned out to be our last visit, we had the misfortune of being the victims of probably the worst server we’ve ever encountered. This poor young lady, explaining it was her first week, was obviously overwhelmed and about an hour after taking the order that still hadn't arrived, we noticed her putting on her coat and storming out into the night, never to be seen again. When we reported all this to the manager, we got not an apology but a lengthy denunciation of the parent company and the news that it was his last night as well. Shortly thereafter the place went out of business but our experiences with incompetent and indifferent service continued elsewhere.

     Speaking of American servers, in all the time we’ve lived and spent vacations in Europe, not just in France but the UK, Spain, Germany, in fact nowhere else in the world has a restaurant worker ever found in necessary or helpful to introduce themselves and explain their function yet we’ve always known instinctively why they were talking to us. Not once has anyone outside the US ever walked up to our table and said, “Hi, I’m (insert trendy, biblical or trendy biblical name here) and I’ll be your server tonight.” I don’t recall exactly when that shit got started but it was at least 20 years ago and at the time I hoped it was just a tip strategy fad that would eventually peter out.  Alas, it’s as alive as ever and likely permanent. When it originally appeared, my first reaction was the urge to respond, “No shit”, or “Well, I’m Mr. Gunia but sir will do and I’ll be the client you’ll be depending on for a generous supplement to your meager wages.”  Although some of my friends might disagree, I could never bring myself to be enough of a dick to actually say this. I did, however, once tell somebody who would “be taking care of” me this was good news since I’d completely forgotten my wallet, however she seemed unused to levity.

      In contrast, French waiters seem to have accepted that this is probably not our first time eating out, negating the need for explanations and that being on a first name basis only cheapens the whole transaction. Despite their national motto, they apparently realize egalité doesn't enter into it. They also tend to possess something beyond a rudimentary knowledge of wine and what’s on the menu. And despite being unaware of any given names, they’re generally easy to summon when needed.
    It always seems like the other restaurant patrons here have come to enjoy themselves and have a good meal, not because they're too damned lazy to cook at home. This is reflected not only in the overall higher quality of the food but also, I think, in the lack of encounters with unruly children. We lost track of the number of restaurant meals in the States ruined by packs of kids running amok while their indifferent parents chowed down and/or got plastered. The only time we’ve encountered it here was a few years ago in Paris, where some rampaging hellions were provided by a thoughtful English family. Maybe it has something to do with a common language.

    Wow, that seemed like a lot of pissing and moaning even for me.

    Getting back to the opening theme, I’ll close as usual with an appropriate musical selection.

Addendum 1 September 2017: Shortly after I wrote this post, Cynthia and I flew to the States to visit her mother and during the trip encountered a server who was easily the most irritating of all-time and a candidate for the Insincere Cheeriness Hall of Fame. Her bubbly introduction included a promise to take "wonderful" care of us and an inquiry as to whether we were all "amazing" that evening. In fact, she could be a world record holder for frequency of use of this adjective.  My response that, while un- willing to commit to "amazing", I could admit to faring tolerably met with the usual response.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Angie. Nobody's said anything like that to me in a while.

  2. I remember the stories you told when we were in the federal building in San Diego many many years ago. You still have me laughing.

  3. Thanks, Julie, that's nice to hear. Thanks for reading.

  4. I loved this post. I've not been to France since I was 21, and I'm twice that age now! I love french cuisine, but I'm not sure if I would want to retire to France

    1. Thank you for the kind words and for actually reading my screed. Well, you've got a few years to go before you have to make any retirement decisions but I recommend it here. Then again,to do otherwise might be admitting a mistake but I don't think we've made one. I love it here.

    2. Have been searching for chat rooms, blogs, opinions that take me outside of my sandbox and was delighted to trip upon your blog. Anyone who can make me laugh out loud and keep the subject interesting has my attention! Can't imagine living in a country where I cannot speak and/or understand the language. In the years you have lived there has speaking French become easier?