French cafe starts charging extra to rude customers

As a cafe in Nice demands customers be polite, Anthony Peregrine asks whether this is acceptable in a country with a reputation for surly service.

What a damned nerve! A wine bar and bistro in Nice has apparently grown so fed up of rude customers that it''s started penalising impoliteness. Ask for "a coffee" in La Petite Syrah, and it costs you €7 (£5.90). Ask for "a coffee please," and the price drops to €4.25 (£3.60). But enter the place crying "Bonjour, a coffee please," - perhaps also embracing everyone within reach- and the cup will cost you what it costs generally in Nice.

And this from a French catering trade renowned the world over as a manners-free, arrogant zone where - according to recent allegations made against two Parisian restaurants - ugly customers are systematically hidden out of view.

 

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Accepting such etiquette lessons from French waiters could only be tolerable, we might conclude, if, by the same token, the coffee got cheaper still when our order was forgotten, reduced to nothing when the waiter scowled - and he then paid us when he poured it over our jackets.

And yet, and yet - I think the rudeness of French catering in general, and waiters in particular, is vastly overdone. The rudest waiter I ever met was in a gastronomic restaurant in northern England ("You wouldn''t effing well smile if you worked here, pal," he confided.) I also think it''s quite rude to be served unspeakable espresso in a polystyrene tumbler by a witless young person filling in time before applying to TV reality shows for a more promising future. But this happens every time I set foot in Britain.

Because, in short, we don''t take waiting-on seriously, we fail to appreciate that the French do. They consider it a profession worthy of respect. You can tell that by their aprons, bow-ties - and age. These fellows can carry an order of 14 different drinks in their heads, deliver them all to your terrace table on one tray, shout at a passing taxi driver, give directions to the Eiffel Tower - and get your change right, pretty much simultaneously. They are busy men doing important work. So naturally they may be a little brusque when you change all 14 orders - in English. Imagine trying to order 14 different drinks in a London pub - in French.


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