"Don't be yourself - be someone a little nicer."
~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966
Some days more than others I realize I am not a "nice" person. I realize in the same instant that the statement preceding is just the kind of sweeping generalization that I detest with a fiery passion. However I am growing to believe I need a serious change of character.
Case in point #1:
I read Jan's blog this morning and finally, after fighting back a number of tears remembering with fondness and heartache our beautiful adventure in Europe this past summer, got to her recollection of our meal in the square in Brussels, the final night of being in Europe.
Here is the difference between a nice (my wife) person and myself. Go read Jan's blog about this situation, then come back and read the following.
We sat there, trying as hard as humanly possible to treat this, our last evening in this beautiful country full of beautiful people and now wonderful memories, like any other fun evening out in Europe. But the fact of the matter was we could NOT seriously delude ourselves completely. We enjoyed speaking, oddly enough, with another American couple who were traveling. We sat for a long time after we finished, talking and just enjoying ourselves. We had not ordered anything for some time, which in Europe we had found was never an issue. In the U.S., the wait-staff are relying on tips for a large part of their income, and therefore want the table to be ordering or make way for another table. Jan and I are increasingly fond, as we age, of drawing out our evenings at dinner into the long hours of the night talking and reminiscing or thinking out-loud together. And, we found, this enjoyment is well received in Europe, where you are allowed to linger virtually until they close the restaurant without ordering anything after dinner, just sitting and talking. And here we were, our final evening, in French speaking Brussels, doing just that for the very last time this trip. And this is where Jan's version of the story, and MY version of the story, diverge.
The waiter came to us, we did not summon the waiter. He came to our table and put the check down in front of me, pointed to the total owed. I said thank you and resumed my conversation, expecting him to leave.
He coughed, and said "No, you pay now."
There was no please. There was no courtesy. It was a demand. I bristled and felt hugely uncomfortable in this very public setting with other Americans who were experienced travelers nearby.
"Ok, here is a Visa." I said, trying to sound calm, at ease. I was nervous. I do not appreciate the manner with which the waiter was putting me on the spot.
"No," he said again, now pointing at the amount on the reciept, "you pay cash. We only take cash."
I forget how we covered the bill, but we covered it. Jan went in to use the restroom and I followed her in. I was fuming, still, and it was about to get worse. I glanced back toward the door and indeed saw the sticker clearly posted in the window that shows the VISA, MASTERCARD, DISCOVER logos.
I purposefully calmed myself and turned to the bartender who smiled and greeted me. I asked him if I could pay with Visa.
He looked at me as if I were crazy and said "of course, monsieur."
At that perfect moment the waiter had just come in and was standing nearby. I looked to him and said right at him "Excuse me..."
He said something in French. "Sorry, do you speak English?" He gave me a mean look and nodded."Hey, I see that the sticker in the window says you take visa, why did I have to pay cash?"
"No, we do not take visa."
Even more perfectly, the bartender turned to his coworker and saidin ENGLISH, "Yes we do, what do you mean?"
I looked again at the waiter, who was visibly angry at me, and I said "Why did I have to pay cash?" I understood and understand the futility of this, but I was angry, humiliated, and thought I could make my point better.
To my surprise the waiter rattled something off in French. The bartender even shook his head and walked away!! I assume it must have been an insult directed towards me.
"What?" I asked the waiter.
"Maybe you should learn French."
There is angry, and then there is RAGE. And THEN there is how I felt at that instant. I can not find adequate descriptors.
I said "Shut up, you stupid fuck!" But I said it in SWEDISH.
"What?" Said the dumbfounded waiter, who was obviously surprised I could speak something other than 'American.'
My moment of victory had arrived, at last.
"Maybe you should learn Swedish, I said with a BIG smile." I won. Checkmate.
Jan came up and he pointed to the door. "You go, now."
I am just not that nice.Oh well.