Illustration Vincent Mahé
In her delightful article, “In Defense of the Notoriously Arrogant French Waiter,” Cristina Nehring, an American expat living in Paris, attempts to unravel the mystery of what makes the Parisian garcon de café tick.
Of course, everyone from the tourist to the native to the parisien de souche has his or her own favorite stories about this most redoubtable of French institutions. And so, I thought I’d share with you one of mine.
Photo: Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
As I looked into the café, I saw our waiter sitting at the bar knocking back shots of Armagnac. “Well,” I said to my husband, “this is a new one. I’ve never seen this before.” We may have been tired, but I was not about to give up without a fight. Besides, now I was intrigued.
By the time the waiter returned, I had decided on my plan of action – a two-pronged charm offensive à la française-américaine. I would couple my French language skills with that quintessential American quality which can be found in abundance only in America – Niceness. The French can disarm you with their charm, which they can turn on and off at will, but Americans are by far the nicest, most helpful, most sympathetic people in the world, and over the years I have seen more than one haughty Frenchman crumble in the face of it.As he stood there in front of us tapping his foot in annoyance, I looked at him, smiled sweetly and said in French, “Monsieur, you are clearly having a bad day. I’m so sorry.” The next thing I knew we were having an Oprah moment. His girlfriend had moved out the night before and a colleague had not shown up for work today. Not only did he serve us beautifully after that, but it was Armagnacs all around, on the house, after dinner.
If you are going to Paris for the first time and plan on eating in a restaurant, here are a few things to keep in mind concerning the Paris waiter:
1) He is not an out-of-work actor/model/singer/musician as is usually the case in the USA. He is a professional who knows his business, which is food and wine and how to serve them;
2) As a tourist/customer, you are seen as an annoyance, ranging from minor to major depending on your behavior and his mood that day. Try not to take it personally; and
3) He will always reserve his best service for his regular customers, which, from his point of view, is good business. You will probably not return but they will.
Parisians are the quickest to complain – about everything.
American children are the most badly behaved, followed closely by British children. Of course, once they are old enough to text, they become less disruptive, but they still have very poor table manners.
German tourists are the most demanding. As one older waiter put it, “Someone should tell them they didn’t win the War.”