Thursday, November 15, 2007
Homo Sapiens Patronisata
As a former student of sociology and anthropology I have been intrigued to be the discoverer of as new, rather special, group of people scattered among out population.
They share some quite unique characteristics. They are a sort of sub group, possibly two subgroup, within those who cook, own or serve in restaurants or bistros and occasionally other styles of eatery. Generally confined to the more expensive end of the restaurant spectrum they may not be readily recognised by their appearance but a short conversation or a look at the menu will make them immediately obvious. It is really surprising that they have not been previously recognised and described. For want of a better name, I have have called them homo sapiens patronisata.
They have acquired strange customs and use language in a peculiar fashion
In ethnic restaurants they often greet you, sometimes quite effusively' in the language of the restaurant food. "Seniora's", "Gracia's", "Madam's" and "merci's" pour from their lips even though they may be born and bred down the road and only know half a dozen words that are not english.
They generally do not trust you to place you napkin and a soon as you are seated, occasionally with a bit of a flourish, place it across your knees. This behaviour however is not seen at those establishments that offer paper serviettes! Even before this, before you are even seated they may ask " Can I get you a drink?"
One may say "My name is Ben and I am your waiter tonight". Is the appropriate response "My name is John and I am your customer tonight"?
They are prone to a certain form of meaningless compliment such as "excellent choice sir" or "perfect". Since this occur regardless of what you ordered and I guess just patronising their restaurants must have been an excellent choice and I suppose no serious inference can be drawn about those dishes that you did not order.
The use of the royal "we" is another giveaway. For example "are we finished with the bread?" This may be combined with another greatly overworked word "enjoy!". "Did we enjoy the salmon?" "Would you enjoy coffee with the dessert sir?" How would I know? It depend on how good the coffee is. Other indication of failure to recognise the relationship between the staff and the restaurant patron emanate from the kitchen, for example "chef does not allow his food to be eaten with tap water" or, "the porterhouse is served medium rare" almost daring you to request it any other way. Another line of dictation directs how the food is to be "enjoyed". "This dish should be enjoyed starting from the left". Is this a prediction or an order?
Sometimes front of house staff appear quite normal but the menu shows telltale signs.
These menus consist of totally irrelevant names, here are a few examples - Spear, Shield. Sphere, Fire, Water, Sculpture and Ripple attached to lists of ingredients. Waiters assiduously describe the dishes, often in places so noisy that they can barely be heard, and sometimes in accents that could not be understood even under the cone of silence. The description usually amounts to a recitation of ingredients. I confess that I often report these in reviews even though they bore me stupid. Imagine this conversation. I had a strange meal at ABC. Oh! What did you have? Something called Wind. Really. What was that? I have no idea. The waitress told me it was aerated whatever but nothing was recognizable, including the taste!
Another area of unintelligible use of language on which I will not dwell at present is that of sommelliers and wine writers. Descriptive terms for wine such as aristocratic, regal, zesty, juicy, and dozens of other other normal english words used in a context that is beyond criticism because it is meaningless. I'm waiting to hear someone describe a wine as canine - at least I'd know it meant a wine with a bite to it!
Despite all this I do appreciate that it must be very difficult to find the best way to provide a pleasing service, which is what these people are really trying their best to do.