Saturday, 8 November 2008

The French Waiter - Meeting the Masters......

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.

18 People trying to get Manuel's attention:

Medbh said...

What a dick.
I thought they were sticklers for correct pronunciation?
Obviously not.

At least he was polite to LMM.

Manuel said...

medbh: he was bad but the rest oozed charm and had such great skills.......I was shamed.....

Silverstar said...

Only the great can acknowledge the greatness of others. Or anyway, that's how I acknowledge this pitiful existence of mine.

Waiter Extraordinaire said...

On the continent the waiting trade is considered a profession and a damn good one. But the tip is generally included in the l'addition , so if they had to earn a tip , despite their deft skill at serving full bar trays , their lack of personality and snobbishness would earn them squat in North America. I mean if someone asked me for an espresso and I understood them would I go to the trouble of correcting them. I remember on the ship and Switzerland I worked with a lot of French nationals and yes some are fine waiters but they think their shit don't smell! You compete with any of them.

Sweetchuck said...

you should of told the smarmy git that they could've done with resistance like that say ooooooh i dunno around 1940

Anonymous said...

I found the waiters in Paris very friendly. But then I spoke French and showed off my legs :-)

Manuel said...

silverstar: nice.....

steve: funny thing was steve that there were no tips included anywhere we went, not even in the 3 star place....it's true what you say though, they are technically very gifted but lack that certain extra that makes the difference...

sweetchuck: ha! 06.11? you shit the bed?

anonymous: oh I tried that too.....but I'm a short fat hairy man so it was always doomed to fail....

paddy said...

it wouldn't be gay Pareee though without rude French waiters would it?

Manuel said...

paddy: not just in paris either.....ahem

Waiter Extraordinaire said...

Wow no service included. Maybe things have changed since the 90's.

Manuel said...

I was shocked too!

Native Minnow said...

It's easy to feel insignificant when surrounded by the great ones. It's a feeling I had this summer when presenting my research in front of some of the leaders of my field. I told a good story, but had to end the talk with "now the next step is to go out and get some statistics to back all this up." They just nodded in agreement. That alone put me in my place.

belfast plate carrier said...

Of course, you don't have to go to France. Just mooch up the Ormeau Rd and hit L'etoile. A friend of mine told me about when he dined there and the table next to them asked for 'gravy'.
'Gray-vee?' the frnech waitress replied. 'If you want zee gray-vee you most go next deur'

'Next deur' is the local chippy

Manuel said...

minnow: bwahahahaha....did you shuffle awkwardly off stage?

bpc: love that place......and they let you smoke right to the end....bless.....still there is only two things on the menu that you would eat.....great steak

Rachel said...

Er ... yes. 'Espresso' is right, if you're talking Italian. The French word is 'Expresso'. You were in Paris, therefore you lose, sorry.

Manuel said...

rachel: eh I never lose....espresso is an Italian word, doesn't matter if you are in Paris or Milan it's still expresso! Welcome by the way!

Sonia Luna said...

As an Italian I think you are right Manuel, Espresso is an Italian word and you pronounce it right, what a dick for correcting you. I work in a restaurant where people sometimes get confused if I ask do they what fries, when they ask can they not have chips instead [yes, I know, it is that kind of classy establishment] I just say "Of course you can, sir" and not point out that they are the same thing ... I do break my shite laughing in the kitchen afterwards, but the customer is always right [not!]

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