Sunday, August 8, 2010

Starbucks in any language

I caved. I'm sipping a skinny vanilla latte at Starbucks as I write this. I had expected to give a tour this morning but fortunately it's drizzly and muggy out so I didn't have to go. (not that I mind giving tours - but I have guaranteed afternoon and night tours so I get to work 10 hour day instead of 14. And for that I'm grateful.)

I had a hunch I may not go out this morning when I looked out my window at the gloomy sky so brought my book with me. I've joined the craze and am reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was craving something familair so decided to spend the morning reading and sipping at Starbucks.

It wasn't just the familiarity of Starbucks that appealed to me, it was the service. I came in and ordered my drink exactly as I pleased. My heart's desire. And it was prepared with a smile! I've been so underwhelmed by the service in France, especially of late. So the chance to order skim milk and Splenda is a satisfying change from the ordinary.

At restaurants I've noticed that tourists are often served differently from locals. For me, courses are often brought together - rather than salad first - unless you specify otherwise. But for locals the default is separate courses. I wish I had some "I'm local" badge so that I could earn the right to slowly linger over my meal. But my broken French when ordering gives me away every time.

Once you have your food you will likely not see the waiter again until you flag him down and ask for the check. No "how is everything?" or "can I get you a refill?" As an American I have come to expect great service. Shamefully I feel even entitled to it. Over here waiting tables is truly a profession - not something one does to put themself though college. Service (tips) is included in l'addition (bill) and the waiters are salaried or a given a high hourly wage so there is no motivation for good service.

In countries like Spain and Italy I found that servers enjoy tourists giving ordering a go in the local language. They often help you along, all with a smile. In France, not so. Trying to order in French generally is answered with an annoyed waiter responding in English - not at all interested in indulging tourist attempts at language mastery.

Another difference in service was highlighted during my day on the Côtes-du-rhône wine trail in the Provence region. Having spent days wine tasting in northern California, Australia and South Africa I had a presupposition of what the winery visit should entail. The domain visits here are a bit shocking to the American "I expect great service" system. No one suggests a tasting order, no one tells you anything about the wine. You are simply greeted by a grumpy French woman who expects you just to point to a list. They have no interest in answering questions and you definitely can't buy a glass of your favoirte to enjoy on a patio overlooking the vineyards. The only exception to this was at Domaine de Mourchon - where we met the friendly British owner (who made his millions living in Houston in the 80s). He told us all about the winery's history, the wines and his upcoming event at a steak house in Dallas. His wines were wonderful and will be popping up on a menu near you!

I've come to expect poor service in France. And on the ocassion where I get great service I'm very appreciative. I notice it, rather than expect it. It's the same in the broader since of my life. I pour my venti-sized expectations into an espresso-sized cup and am surprised when it makes a mess. This summer I have been trying to notice the wonderful things and people that surround me and experiences I'm given, rather than just expect them. Appreciation requires effort. So today I am savoring the sun that's now shining and the smile that comes with my cup of coffee.

*I realize this is filled with generalizations, and I'm okay with that.
** I also realize 'servers' is a more proper term than 'waiters' but just don't feel it appropriate in the French waiter context.

1 comment:

  1. yay! i'm on the girl with the dragon tattoo band-wagon too...we can share thoughts :) your "venti-sized expectations..." analogy - you smarty-pants you! xoxo...