Or maybe the title should be ‘French Customer Service – Oxymoron No. 289’?
Now I have been spending my hard earned cash in the Café du Midi in the village for over 10 years. The waitresses greet me with a kiss on both cheeks when I enter, and the barman always gives me a free drink and even has my cigarettes on the counter before I cross the road from the car park. They even sent a flower arrangement when J and I got married across the square from their bistro and, unlike the French, I always leave a generous tip. I thought they liked me. I really did.
I phone up on Tuesday morning to book a table and of course I make a bit of a pig’s ear of it by saying, ‘Je suis Thomas, le mairie de Julie’, which roughly translated means, ‘I am Thomas, the mayor of Julie’. It should have been ‘marie’ which is ‘husband’, but what’s a rogue ‘I’ between friends? Just as I was saying ‘désoleé’ , ‘sorry’ about my French, the barman cut me off in my prime quite obvious that he couldn’t be bothered to translate my attempts at his beloved language and passed me onto to Monique, one of the waitresses.
‘I’d like to book a table for 6 please.’
‘OK – what time?’
‘One o’clock please.’
‘Ah – it can’t be one o’clock.’
‘No – it’ll need to be 12.20.’
So I accept this strange time but I know it’s because at 12.20 they have a slight chance of filling the table again when we leave, whereas at 1pm, there’s virtually no chance of a second table full of paying visitors.
At 12.20, I’m still working in Sarah and David’s swimming pool pump room when I realize I’d better get down to the Midi, to keep our table so I dash off on my scooter and arrive at precisely 12.25. I thought I’d be the forward party and show them that the rest were on their way.
Christine, the senior waitress greets me, not with a peck on the cheek but with a very serious shake of the head and a point to her watch. I look at mine and shake my head – 5 minutes late – what’s the problem?
The young waitress who has a face that would launch a thousand suicides, also shakes her head and points to my ‘reserved’ favourite outside table and with a swish of her arm points out the totally full restaurant as if it’s going to make me feel bad.
And then just as I’m taking my jacket off, I swing my arm and knock a coffee out of the hands of a guy moving to the outside so he can have a cigarette. Although I reckon it was 50/50 blame apportionment (he should have known I was clumsy), I get another dirty look from the waitress (I've never bothered to find out her name) who then proceeds to ‘non’ every time I try to move the table so she can get her mop under it.
Eventualment (good French eh ?), everything is sorted, I sit down, there are no more incidents but I still get admonishing looks from all the waitresses because at about 12.40 I’m still the only one sitting at a table for six.
Sarah and her mum and dad arrive at about 12.45, J about 10 minutes later. Then we try and order our food which is a major struggle. We finally get our food at 1.30 and left well after 3pm! What was all the fuss about?