Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Could This French Waiter Be a Bigger Cliche?

On Easter Monday, everyone in France is off work. Well, I was already off work since I'm on maternity leave, but it meant I got to spend the day with my husband and son.

We met up with my mother-in-law, Catherine, for a walk. After 11 weeks on bed rest, I was allowed to walk around once I hit the 8-month-pregnant mark (Easter Sunday). We strolled the neighborhood with the intention of grabbing some coffee in one of Paris' numerous cafes.

Coffee in a French cafe
All that for this?

No dice. Everything was closed. It was a holiday but I still thought cafes would be open. And anyway, "Easter Monday" doesn't count as a real holiday. Easter? Sure. But Easter Monday? Next we're going to celebrate Thanksgiving Tuesday and shut everything down.

We finally found an open cafe (incidentally, the one where I took my author photo) and sat at a four-person table on the enclosed terrace. It was half-set: two sets of cutlery, a salt and pepper shaker, and two menus. It was 11:00 am and the place was empty. We'd beaten the lunch crowd and arrived after the early morning crowd.

It still took 5 minutes for a waiter to even come over.

"Are you here for lunch or just drinks?" he asked.

"Just coffee," Mika answered.

"Oh, then I'm sorry," he said, in a tone that indicated he clearly wasn't sorry, "but you'll have to move over to the other side of the terrace."

Was he serious? The place was empty! We would certainly finish our coffee before the lunch crowd arrived. Why couldn't we stay where we were?

"Monsieur, I understand," Mika said, "but is there any way my son, pregnant wife, and mother - who has a sprained ankle - could stay here?" (Catherine's ankle was on the mend and her doctor recommended trying to walk a little, but still - it was really swollen).

"No, sir, I'll need you to move. These tables are already set for lunch."

We relunctantly got up and crossed the terrace.

"He calls these tables set? It was half-set at best." Of all the things to be mad about, Catherine seemed most chuffed at this waiter's definition of a set table. But she had a point.

As we waited for the waiter to take our order, a creepy drunk dude stumbled in to the cafe. The waiter rushed to greet him and showed him to a table right next to us. He took his order, then finally came to take ours. Glad to see the neighborhood drunk gets better service than us.

Drunko lit a cigarette, the smoke of which blew directly our way. This really annoyed me, on top of everything else that was annoying me. See, smoking is banned in all indoor public places in France but you can smoke outside on the terrace. However, this cafe had a "real" open-air terrace and then this pseudo-terrace which was technically on the sidewalk but was completely enclosed by windows. So to me that doesn't really count as "outside" if the smoke can't ventilate. Why couldn't Drunko sit on the real terrace? The waiter thought it was super important for US to move but he wouldn't make this guy move?

Our friendly waiter arrived with Drunko's espresso, serving him first, then splashing our drinks down on our table. We finished them in a hurry, eager to get my pregnant belly and asthmatic son away from the chain-smoking drunk.

What really gets me is you just know Drunko is going to sit there all morning, nursing his espresso and smoking until his cigarettes are gone, leaving no tip and earning the cafe €1. Meanwhile, our total was €8.20 and we stayed for five minutes (not counting wait time).

Mika went inside to pay as we packed up. He handed the waiter a 10 and the waiter did the classic move of hustling and bustling around behind the bar as if he had other stuff to do, in the hopes that Mika would leave before collecting his change. Nice try pal, but tipping is optional in France, and we were certainly not tipping on that crappy service.

I must say (my love for my adopted country is getting the better of me) that most cafe experiences are actually quite good in France so I don't want to perpetuate the stereotype of the rude French waiter. But this guy was pure douche, and therefore needs to be called out. And of course, we're boycotting that cafe. Which means next time we want coffee on a holiday, we'll be extra screwed. But at least we won't have to deal with that guy.

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Life's short. Laugh more. Buy my books at

Vicki Lesage, Author