Travel Tip: Don’t believe all the stereotypes you hear about people in foreign lands!
France – July, 2011
I’m sure many of you have heard that French waiters are rude. Our trip to Paris and the Loire Valley several years ago gave Rob and me a chance to bust that myth.
Waiter #1 – Paris
“Happy Birthday!” The young waiter greeted us enthusiastically and escorted us to our table.
I grinned at Rob. It was our second night in Paris – and neither of us was having a birthday. I had searched the internet for an authentic Parisian bistro, someplace frequented by the locals in the Marais District of Paris, and had settled on Le Bistrot des Comperes, just a short walk from our hotel. We had asked our concierge to make the reservations and to tell the restaurant that it was our tenth anniversary, but I had forgotten that “happy birthday” in French is bon anniversaire.
I explained to the young man in my very limited French that tonight was “l’anniversaire de notre marriage.” He apologized and we all laughed. Somehow that laughter dissolved the formal barrier between our waiter and ourselves and after guiding us through the unfamiliar French menu and turning in our orders, he returned to the table to visit with us. It helped that we had arrived at the unfashionably early hour of 6:30 p.m., at least an hour before the French dinner crowd, so there were not yet any other customers in the restaurant needing his attention.
Our waiter introduced himself as Kevin. “Kevin?” I asked. “I didn’t know Kevin was a French name.”
“Yes! It is one of the hundred most popular names in France!”
Not only was his name unexpected, but Kevin had the face of an American college kid, with curly auburn hair, a big smile, and an open manner. His clothing, however, was definitely continental…skinny blue jeans with a wide red belt, a tight red t-shirt, a gold chain around his neck.
We spent the entire evening chatting like old friends. Kevin was amazed by our stories of Lily, our talkative parrot, so naturally we pulled out the iPad to show him photos. He answered our many questions about getting around in Paris. Finally, he had to turn his attention to arriving customers, but made a point of coming over to say good-bye when it was time for us to leave.
The next afternoon, Rob and I joined our tour group and Rolinka, our tour guide, led us through the Marais streets to our first group dinner. What a great surprise to find that we were headed to the very same little bistro! Kevin greeted our group, then he spotted Rob and me in the crowd. His face lit up and he greeted me with a hug and a kiss on each cheek while the other members of our tour group looked on in wonder. How lovely to feel like a local Parisian!
Waiter #2 – Azay-le-Rideau
Our tall, reserved, silver-haired waiter at the little café on Balzac Street stood patiently looking down at me as I tried to explain the modifications that Rob wanted made to his lunch. We had been in France for a full week and my French skills had been improving, but today I could not seem to remember the simplest little request.
My fumbling was made worse by the fact that our waiter in this little village of Azay-le-Rideau spoke no English at all. I was sure that his neutral expression masked his disdain for this ignorant tourist. My husband wasn’t helping either, as he kept remembering new requests.
“Il voudrait une omelette,” I said. “He would like an omelet.”
“Did you tell him with tomatoes, but no ham?” asked Rob.
“Avec les tomates, mais pas de … (I quickly glanced at the word for ham on the menu)… jambon,” I amended.
The waiter silently made notes on his pad.
“And no cheese,” added Rob.
“Aussi, pas de…” Oops, what was cheese in French? All I could remember was queso, cheese in Spanish. How could I forget cheese? It is the national food of France!
I looked up sheepishly. “Pardonez moi. Je parle francais trés mal.” Pardon me, I speak French very badly.
Our dignified waiter looked down at me, his eyes crinkling with the slightest smile.
“Moi, aussi,” he responded, “Me, too.”