Hello my name is … and I will be giving you bad service today.
This is Jacques. He is your stereotypical rude, French waiter. He is the thing people think of when they hear about France. “No I will never go to France, the waiters are rude,” my father always used to say. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, an history and culture completely unlike our own – but a rude waiter? That is the deal breaker. No France!
Here is the irony, though. The irony is that the waiters in France are not actually rude. Nor are the ones in Italy, or most of the European countries. Same goes for Asia. I have had many friends go on vacation to different parts of Asia, only to come back and report that the service in the restaurants was horrible. “They didn’t even spell their name upside down with a crayon on the paper table cloth!” But what my father, my friends, and the hoards of people that have created the stereotype of the bad table service in other countries have done is overlook something quite obvious: cultural differences.
America seems to be a wholly unique culture in the sense of the dining experience. At some point, Americans grew to expect things like pithy introductions and witty banter in between entries (in France, this would be considered invading the customer’s personal space). At some point, Americans thought that it was standard practice for your waiter to sit down at the table with you when they took your order, leaning in just close enough to smell the beer that had been downed on lunch break in an effort to deal with such a miserable job (in Japan, this is unheard of). Somewhere along the line, Americans decided that it was a necessity to tip, and tip well (in China it is an insult). And in the most ultimate of idiosyncratic American eating out expectations, somehow we decided we wanted to be treated as though – even though we have just met – a true friendship is being formed between waiter and waited (in Italy this would be grounds for termination). Nowhere but here do customers expect such an explicit show of affection between strangers that happen to intersect long enough for a grilled cheese sandwich and a Diet Coke.
The caveat, though, is this: while I do not necessarily care (or even want) to be treated like my waiter or waitress is my best friend when I order my salad; and I most certainly could do without the invasion of my personal space when taking my order, if an employee of a restaurant I am eating at knows that this type of behavior is expected of them and does not do it, I take pause. Okay, that’s not really true – I don’t take pause if there is just an absence of those annoying and uniquely American dinner-time behaviors. When I do take pause, though, is when I get the face that Jacques up there is making. “You don’t want pinto beans on your salad because you are allergic?!” “NO MEAT?!” “Wait, so all you want to drink is water?” I have gotten that face – that I’m-so-above-you-and-your-annoying-order-and-while-I’m-at-it-you-had-better-be-grateful-that-I-did-you-the-favor-of-allowing-you-to-eat-in-this-establishment-despite-the-fact-that-I-have-single-handedly-chased-away-all-of-the-other-customers-and-we-need-your-$15.40-bill-to-stay-open face (whew-that was a long one). Since I hate cooking and find myself cooped up in the house all day, every day, we eat out a lot. On average I get this face once every third or fourth time. And, in fact, I got it tonight when I said that I was allergic to pinto beans, so please keep them off my salad.
Lesson of the day for those of you in food service out there: while Americans most certainly need to get their heads out of their asses and stop expecting you to replace them (their heads) with your lips, you also don’t need to give them fodder to create a true stereotype of the rude American waiters like they have created for those poor other countries who just want to do their jobs like everyone else.