1:27 am

Impressing French waiters

Things I’ve learned about impressing French waiters:

  • Ordering an apéritif, especially a Ricard (an anisette), impresses them to no end. I haven’t quite figured out why this is, but they really straighten up at that. Kir is also very popular, and is frequently a default selection when a restaurant includes an apéritif as part of its menu.
  • Ordering cheese instead of something sweet for dessert also marks you as a force to be reckoned with. It’s not a bad move at any rate, since I find that French desserts are pretty boring. Note: Those luscious, creamy pastries you see in the bakeries? They never make an appearance for dessert; the French don’t understand why you want something rich like that after your meal. (But you do want something rich like cheese? Well, no one says this is logical.) Pastries make an appearance only at the French version of tea time, the goûter.
  • Ordering a digestif, such as an Armagnac or a Calvados, also wins over waiters. Outside of Paris, ordering a regional specialty will especially endear you. I ordered Izzara (a green, herby Basque liqueur, kind of like Chartreuse, only milder) in Lourdes, and my (Basque) waiter immediately became my new best friend.

I’ve thought about trying to train myself to eat with my fork in my left hand, in the Continental style, but finally decided against it. Any attempt to masquerade as a native withers and dies the instant I open my mouth to speak, so why bother? Besides, as Miss Manners observes, "American table manners are, if anything, a more advanced form of civilized behavior than the European, because they are more complicated and further removed from the practical result, always a sign of refinement".

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