It is a cliché that clichés are clichés because some of them are truewrites Stephen Clarke.
Similarly, stereotypes are usually stereotypes because they are based on observation – they’re not necessarily a bad thing. (By the way I wonder if stereotypes used to be called monotypes. A better name, perhaps, for a single sort of person that is meant to characterize a whole set of people.)
Anyway, I say all this as an advance apology. I am about to tell a [Parisian story] that conform to Parisian stereotypes. My only defence is that [the event] happened. In Paris, too.
… I was having a quick coffee in the Marais, at a place where I stop off sometimes when I’m in the area. I stood at the bar, and noticed I was the only one doing so. The other customers all seemed to be sit-down tourists. I had a quick read of the paper, paid, leaving a small tip as you do, then turned to go. As I did so, I heard a growl behind me and noticed that the waitress had been charging past with a tray, and had been forced to slam on the brakes when I turned away from the bar into her path. I apologized – “pardon” – and got out of her way. As she put her tray on the bar, she replied, “You should watch where you’re going! Merde!”
Of course we don’t know, and it wasn’t the right time to ask, what’s been going on in her life recently. Money worries, husband troubles, her favourite player is out of the French Open, who knows. It is very rare for Parisian waiters and waitresses to let the customer hear this kind of aggression, although they must think it quite often, for example when people take hours (well, OK, seconds) to order, or complain that they wanted a ham and cheese sandwich and not a ham and cheese omelette, or ask what’s in the beef lasagne. So I just said “Is that how you talk to your customers?” and left. There are half a dozen cafés in the same street, I don’t need to go back to that one. But i thought that she’d really let the side down. I’ve been defending Parisian waiters for years, saying they can seem brusque but they’re just being professional – they have to work fast and sometimes we the customers hold them up, but be polite and they will too. Now I was disappointed to have been proved wrong. After all, if you can’t rely on a Parisian waiter or waitress to look down on you in imperious silence, what is the world coming to? It’s like Jeeves telling Bertie Wooster to go and f**k himself (which, I must admit, he occasionally deserves.)