What’s in a Stereotype Anyway?
I had promised myself I would stop stereotyping French waiters as arrogant, nasty and oh-so-not-helpful pillars of Parisian culture. It had been years since I was verbally insulted by one and I was convinced that that era was gone, over, fini. Then it happened. A waiter, a perfect stranger (or should I say an “imperfect stranger”), wearing a white shirt and a black vest decided to teach me a lesson. I decided to teach him one too. I challenged myself and him to a verbal duel; I would not leave the restaurant until I could get him to talk to me — nicely. The night was young; I had time.
It was a sunny, warm evening and I thought I would stop for an “aperitif” at a corner café. I was near the rue de Bac when a very pleasant older man (probably the owner of the bar) suggested that I stop and have a drink there. He was smiling so of course I said yes.
I nestled myself in a corner and started to watch the world go by.
Capital “S” for Service
“Have you decided?” a young gruff voice sprung on me from behind. He sounded like he was in a hurry (afterwards I understood he was in a hurry to get rid of me).
“What kind of red wine do you have?” I asked this question in perfect French since I have had a lot of practice in ordering wine in Paris. He threw the menu at me – really, honestly, truly – he threw it. Its fake leather cracked as it hit the table.
“Everything’s in there,” he said. And then he added, “That’s what menus are for.”
He disappeared and gave me at least ten minutes to find the red wine page and decide between Bordeaux, Brouilly or Cotes de Rhone. I chose the Cotes de Rhone in the first minute and then thought about how I could get him to be nice to me in the next nine minutes while I waited.
He plopped the glass down in front of me with a little saucer full of peanuts. I smiled a great big “Merci” but got a snarl in return. He was a tough egg to crack. However, I had been an English teacher to French adults for years; I could get a stone to talk if I had to and tonight I had to.
Very Small Talk
“There are a lot of tourists in Paris,” I said, a lame attempt at small talk, even I can admit that. I could have thrown in some comments about the nice weather we have been having in Paris but an ad on a passing bus gave me a great idea.
“Euro 2012 starts tomorrow – who are you for?”
There, he stopped in his tracks and actually looked at me for the first time.
“I’m Polish”, he said, “I’m for Poland of course, and you, who are you for?”
We All Need Somebody to Love
His question threw me for a loop since I had no idea of who was actually playing in the 16 nation soccer tournament. But I had to answer quickly; wouldn’t want to lose this conversational door he just opened for me. A blonde lady walked by.
“Sweden, I’m for Sweden this time,” I answered, crossing my fingers that they were actually in the tournament. They were.
“Good choice,” he answered. And then went on and on with a detailed summary of each team and why they would or would not win. I finished my glass and asked for another.
This was going to be a long night. We had lots of stuff to talk about and he suddenly forgot he was an unhappy waiter.
To tell you the truth, I don’t like soccer. But I certainly like what it can do to people – actually get them talking to each other. Too bad the big tournaments only happen every four years.
Here are the sixteen finalists who are participating in the Euro 2012 are (just in case you want to impress your waiter when you come to France):