Thursday, June 10, 2010

Waiters in Paris France

I first saw Paris in 1995. I stayed in Montmarte at Le Hôtel de Fleur de Bouquet de Montmartre (18th. arr., now sadly closed). In back of the hôtel, is Le Vrai Paris café, on the Rue des Abbesses. Every morning I ate a croissant and coffee there. And sometimes I would have an espresso in the afternoon. The same waiter was always there. He was the most distinguished waiter I have ever seen. With his small white mustache and full head of all white hair. His white apron, and punctilious manner, he was the very model of the Parisian waiter.

I don't speak French. Not even enough to order quickly. So I would say to this waiter, in my best English accented French: "croissant et café, beurre et confiture". I came to realize that he had other customers to serve and my lack of proficiency in speaking his language did not give me a privilege to take more of his time than another customer. He would bring the food, serve it and leave. The fewer words he spoke to me, and everyone else in the cafe, the better. He was not rude, ever. But he was almost officious, and with everybody in the cafe! The French and the other nationalities had to endure his office.

Then, one afternoon, the butchers from across the Rue came into the cafe. My waiter lit up like a Christmas tree! I still hear him say: "Monsieurs!" (with spoken emphasis on MON) and all the appropriate male-to-male endearments allowed in Parisian culture. They got the good service, the extra attention, the patience of Job, his care and concern. And as I reflected on this, I realized that those fellows were likely the sons of the butchers who had first patronized Le Vrai Paris when the waiter was new there, before his hair turned white. He had an almost intimate relationship with the boys. Probably meeting them when they were first taken to work with their fathers.

So, it occurs to me that this waiter was short with almost all other customers. That, as those fellows he knew came in everyday and that the waiter saw their custom (and tips) as his bread and butter. Everyone else merely another customer.

Repeat business. That's what makes all waiters glad to see their customers. But, in Paris, that can take some time.

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