There is no question that the French were the pioneers of modern cooking and they literally wrote the bible of service as we know it. If it wasn't for them we would still be surviving on dirt and eating animals whole. Now of course, thanks to the French, we eat animal's holes. Didn't see that coming eh. As much as I wanted to behold the sights of Paris and wander romantically through the tree lined boulevards absorbing the Parisian culture and lifestyle I really just wanted to visit their restaurants.
In many ways this trip was, for me, a necessary pilgrimage to the centre of the culinary world. Just as Muslims must go to Mecca and Hindus to the Ganges and just as all old people are required to go to all you can eat buffets on Sunday mornings then it is incumbent on all waiters to go to Paris at least once during their working career. For only in Paris can you truly judge your "skills".
I judged my skills and found myself wanting.
These are the true ballerinas of the restaurant floor and most of the pavement too. I am the very definition of a self important schlepper by comparison to these free flowing guardians of the tray and all that rides upon it. And there is much atop the tray that a French waiter carries. I wouldn't for a moment even consider carrying the amount that they do. They shimmy and glide with the supreme confidence, if not arrogance, that only a French waiter can. Their trays carry everything - coffees stacked, that's right stacked, four tall, alongside your bottle of water and glasses and milk and little bun that you just couldn't resist. I watched with open mouth as one guy pulled the bottle top off my water with one hand whilst balancing a fully laden tray with the other. They don't even pant and huff, they barely seem to sweat.
When I consider what I do with what they do, I am a fucking oaf.
I had plenty of time to watch the waiters work as getting one of these chaps to serve you is a skill all of it's own. They see you. They know that you see them. They just choose not to serve you or acknowledge you until they are ready to do so. Ironically you just have to wait. The trick to getting a French waiter to serve you is to never take your eyes of him, not even to blink. You must, if you want that cafe au lait and sticky bun, maintain a fixed and permanent eyeball on him until you catch his gaze.
Getting a French waiter to take your order is like fishing, you must wait patiently until you attract some attention and then gently but firmly reel your quarry in with a gentle flick of your head or eyebrow. Don't try and beat him over the head with a blunt object though, like fish they don't really appreciate that. And sometimes they get of the hook and you have to start all over again with a new fish.
Most, if not all off them, were polite and friendly. But some French waiters are as rude as you hear they are. I mean if I pulled that shit where I work I would be out of a job quicker than you can fake a smile when the l'addition is produced. I learned so so much from them. But still, no need lads, no need....
"Bonjour", says I with a cheery ring in my voice and the joie de vivre in my blackened heart, to which the tall drink of bitter water replied with nothing more than a sneery grin that was more "merde" than "hello".
"Eh okay then...." His less than friendly demeanor slapped the happiness right off my face.
"You want food or just cafe?"
"Eh just cafe please", I replied sheepishly.
He tutted like I had just walked into his section a minute before closing. Charming.
"Can I get an espresso s'il vous plait?" I even put a little French twist into the svp at the end. Did he care, did he acknowledge that I was trying? Did he fuckity!
"Oui..." says he staring right at me with a very sneery grimace "...un expresso."
Did he just correct my pronunciation? I think he just did! No, no no no this would not stand. I wont be out-pronounced. I'm a waiter on holiday but I'm still a waiter and have standards to maintain and the pronunciation of espresso is a bugbear of mine. So staring him right between the eyes, which wasn't easy what with my own eyes being drawn to his thick hairy monobrow, I hit right back with,
"Un espresso." And turned to indicate that our "conversation" was over.
But I was up against a champion of the sneery last retort.
"Oui monsieur, un expresso, straight away."
Oh it was on.
"Espresso", says I with steely, and childish, determination.
"Un expresso, monsieur." And before I could elevate this from a sorry spat to a fully fledged slap-fest Little Miss Manuel arrived back from the toilet and casually asked the waiter for a cafe au lait.
Turning all charming and dropping the grimace and malice from his voice he pulled out her seat and finished with, "Un cafe au lait for Mademoiselle and un expresso for Monsieur." He stared right at me with a right cuntish grin as he said it too. And with that the crafty Gallic fucker was away.
"Oh isn't he lovely" swooned LMM.
"Oh he's a real fucking peach", says I.
We were served by many waiters during our three and a half days in Paris. All of them were French and not one of them was under twenty years of age, in fact I'd say most of them were in their late twenties and early thirties. Some were much older than that. This says everything about the French attitude to service and to waiting as a profession. It is valued and regarded as a skill. And I applaud them for that and for their dazzling skills even if they cant pronounce espresso correctly.