Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Here to help, part II

I admit that in these pages I may have made one or two disparaging remarks about Polish customer service.

I've just spent a week in Paris.

I take it all back.

For example, when you enter a shop in Poland, if you are a foreigner (and generally it's immediately apparent if you are), the shop assistant will immediately assume you are on holiday and you work for an investment bank in London (or are married to someone who does) and you have Lots Of Cash to spend. They will say 'hello' when you enter the shop, and perhaps ask you if you want to see it in your size (in English - which is considered polite by normal people).

When you enter a shop in Paris, never forget that you should feel privileged to have stepped over the threshold of this magic milieu. Try to assume a humble mien. Cast your eyes to the floor and shift from foot to foot.
However glittery your credit card, its patina will never soil the PIN reader here (although if you bank with Coutts that'd be a step in the right direction).
Best just to shuffle quietly out of the shop, under the beady eye and haughty frown of the achingly chic shop assistant.

And then there's the humble bar, cafe or bistro.

When in Poland, a small group of young foreign girls can quite happily sit down at a table and be served relatively promptly (or at least make their way to the bar, because usually there's a sign to tell you if it's self-service). It doesn't matter if you're speaking English. The waiter or waitress will probably take your order speaking pretty fluent English herself. And if you try to speak in Polish, they're not going to bite you because you have a funny accent. They're more likely to be impressed by your efforts, or, at the very least, will tactfully moderate their obvious amusement.

No such luck in your average French bar.

You'll enter and sit down at a window table with your friends. The late middle-aged lady behind the counter will blithely ignore you, preferring to go and chat up the slickly-dressed (this is the Marais after all) local boys who showed up just after you.
After about fifteen minutes, someone will come up and drop a sheaf of English menus on your table.
Another ten minutes pass, and you will go up to the bar yourself, where there's a guy polishing glasses.

Suddenly you will find it impossible to stand at a bar and say anything other than 'Proszę trzy razy żywiec i frytki.'*

Eventually you regain your composure and manage to order three large pression and a basket of freedom fries.

You begin every request with 's'il vous plait', much to the entertainment of the barman, because it suddenly seems rude not to.

After about half an hour, you will receive three small beers in big girly glasses and a tiny saucer of chips. The middle-aged waitress still hasn't even looked at you.

*n.b. at all costs nip in bud alarming tendency to say 'non' in French whilst nodding head.


Flowers said...

a few years ago i realised that if you are utterly rude to the french (basically play them at their own game - of course, whilst speaking a little french) then they seem to warm to you. it's so odd.

the funniest thing i heard in paris was when i ordered a coke.

the waiter responded to my order with ahhhhh, american beaujolais


Anonymous said...

I loved this post! It was great...

pinolona said...

Thanks Kinuk! Glad it raised a smile, hope things are well in your neck of the woods!

Flowers: I'm far, far too scared to be rude to the French. Self-preservation instinct is too firmly entrenched.
Yep, American Beaujolais it is. Better to bypass the formalities and go straight for the real thing I say.