Check, pleaseMarch 1, 2007 at 1:21 pm | Posted in food, vie quotidienne | 11 Comments
It was nearly 11:00 last night, and a pleasant dinner out with friends was coming to a close. Or was it? Dessert dishes had been cleared away, coffee was being consumed, the evening’s witty banter was slowing gently under the influence of excellent food, wine and aperitifs. Any minute now, our waiter would discreetly drop off the check.
Wait, scratch that last. Because this, of course, is Europe, where checks never arrive unrequested, except at the shabbiest of cafes and restos. So, we begin the dance. The neck-craning, head-bobbing, seat-shifting, anything-to-get-the-waiter’s attention dance. And this, to me, is the weird thing: why do European waiters make you work so hard just to pay them?
Last night, our French friend weighed in on the subject. In America, he observed, the waiters are so quick to bring the check that he feels rushed, as if they are shooing you out the door in hopes of seating another customer. I understand this completely — I can see why dropping the bill on the table in the middle of dessert might strike some people as rude.
But that doesn’t explain why in France, a waiter who has been friendly, attentive, and solicitous throughout the meal suddenly becomes evasive and aloof when all I want to do is hand him money.
The French are certainly not the worst offenders when it comes to this coy avoidance technique. Once Brumaire and I were having lunch at a nice restaurant in Amsterdam: all through the meal, the waitress was at our side with helpful suggestions and explanations, and the service was impeccably prompt. But all that changed the minute we finished our digestif — we looked up to signal for the check, but the waitress had suddenly and inexplicably disappeared. Seriously, she’d vanished into the kitchen after clearing our last plate and we didn’t see her for half an hour. Finally, mindful of an appointment with friends that we were in danger of missing, I got up and tapped on the kitchen door to get her attention.
I understand, no one wants to rush your meal or draw attention to the monetary exchange involved. But doesn’t this act get a little ridiculous at some point?
As usual, I have a feeling I’m missing some cultural key that would solve this little mystery. Is there a special code-word or signal that brings the check promptly? Is one supposed to request it while ordering coffee, before the waiter can escape? Or do I just need to get used to dawdling?
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