Sunday, October 18, 2009

My AAA therapy: Germany

As most university freshmen in the US do, I started waiting tables to pay my way through school. By the time I started my master's degree in English, I was managing the best restaurant in Nashville: Then The Cakewalk, now Zola, owned by my friends Ernie and his wife Debra Paquette, deservedly an award-winning chef. (Since the posting of this anecdote, Zola has gone out of business--sadly.)

Suffice it to say, when I left the restaurant business I was a restaurant snob. And rest assured, whenever I entered a restaurant, I already had my adorable nose in the air sniffing out disappointments. A dining room would either be too empty or too crowded. Servers were never there when my glass needed refilling, or I’d have to swat them away like pesky flies. The tuna would either be too rare or overcooked. “You thickened this sauce with corn starch, didn’t you? Don't tell me you just served from the right! You call this zabaglioni? You can’t even pronounce zabaglioni!” Snobby snob snob. I’m surprised I didn’t go to AAA—Arrogant Assholes Anonymous.

Then I moved to Germany, home of Schweinehaxe and Kraut, which I’m actually eating while writing this entry. Lovely stuff. I seasoned it with kassler and grilled onions.

The Germans suffer no snobs. I soon realized that the little irritations that always got my hackles up—poor service, boring food, lipstick on wine glasses—didn’t bother my dinner companions in the least. Something was up here.

“Uh, Ursula,” I said. “The waiter hasn’t been to our table yet, and we’ve been sitting here since my birth. What’s up with that?” I was trying to be patient in my new surroundings: a Bavarian restaurant decorated with ploughs.

“He said he’d be here immediately,” she said, nonplussed by my nonplussedness.

See, sofort in German means immediately. When you stop a server to beg his presence at your table, he says, “Ja, ja. Sofort.” Then, he disappears for thirty minutes. When he finally appears at your table, he sighs and grunts, which is body language for “What the hell do you want?” You ask, “May we order, please?” He draws his pen and paper. “But we don’t have menus,” you say. He grunts again, twirls—presumably to get the menus—and disappears for another thirty minutes. When he returns, he hands you the menus and stands there waiting for you to order. “But,” you say, “we need a couple of minutes to read the menu.” Grunt, twirl, another thirty minutes. The German word for horse is Pferd, and you’ll hope they have one on the menu, because by now you could really eat one.

It took me a few months (OK, years) to get used to this game. Now I have my favorite restaurant where the service is picobello, mainly because I’ve mellowed (as evidenced by my silly grin in the picture below), but also because the servers and the manager are really very sweet—professional—people.

Oh no, I’ve just realized I’ve written another one of those entries with a message at the end. You know the grind. If you hate messages, go back up to the paragraph before this one and end the story with a picture of me being mellower: adorable, satisfied grin. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite restaurant stories from around the globe in the next few weeks so check in often. No reservation required.

If, one the other hand, you’re a sucker for a message:

Impatience doesn’t make anyone prettier, but sunglasses are almost always an improvement.

I must be off,