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Friday, January 28, 2011

Anywhere You Go


Perhaps my sister should have understood that getting in a car with me means that you had better have your body function requirements taken care of, or be met with a very disagreeable man when requests to stop are made. Actually, it would have been better had she not stepped into a car with me at all. But alas, that was not the case and in 1998, five family members found ourselves crammed together in a small car for a 10 day road trip to France. On November 12, 2009, I wrote about this family trip - you can find it here.

One day while driving, I heard the usual cry from the bathroom admiration society. However, this was France, not the USA. I was on a divided highway. I saw a petrol station some distance ahead on the opposite side of the road with no apparent way to get there. Or let us fairly say that there was no great motivation to get there. I pulled over and contemplated the logistics of crossing this roadway and the unpleasant prospect of making an unnecessary detour and stop.

While evaluating the situation curbside in our idling vehicle, a woman in a nearby private residence came out of her home and asked if we needed help. In the best French we could muster, we told her thanks, but we needed a bathroom and wanted to know if the petrol station had public bathrooms and how to get there. Unbelievably, this woman offered her home and escorted my mother and two sisters in.

We were stunned and to this day, I retell this tale often. Where were the rude, impolite French we had heard about? Answer: The same place they are anywhere - lying inside reasonable people, only to surface when provoked by someone rude who does not understand their culture and etiquette. Americans often behave quite badly, expecting everything to be like home. Read my story So Where's David?.

This was not an isolated event. Even in Paris I had people battling to give me the right directions. Everywhere I went, when approaching others with respect, I was treated respectfully.

When I saw Cafe Charbon-Epicerie at 170 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side of New York City, I was immediately charmed by the recreated Parisian street scene with faux storefronts including a Cremerie and Tabac. This French bistro's reviews, however, are as mixed as the travel experience to France. I skimmed hundreds of patron and food critic reviews which range the extremes of the spectrum. There were some extraordinarily negative experiences - many said that it was the worst service they have had in a New York City restaurant.

After nearly a decade, Cafe Charbon is closing, a place where perhaps rudeness came naturally or fuses were short. Some people are just more polite or have a higher tolerance for abuse like our friend Winnie - see here. But rather than seek out places or people where rude service comes naturally, read So Where's David?, sharpen your skills provoking people and you can find rude service anywhere you go :)

4 comments:

Julia said...

In my experience NYC and the French have a similar level of rudeness saved for unsuspecting folk simply just doing the 'wrong' thing like hoping to order a coffee in a French cafe (apparently at the wrong time of day) or walking towards someone on a crossing in NYC (cue being manhandled out of the way by a smartly dressed lady twice my size)...my tours of other cities have never thrown up such unfathomable experiences!!

Anonymous said...

Hellen and Harvey say: Its a shame that the restaurant is closing. We found the snails to be exquisite and the service very accommodating. This is disappointing news.

Judit said...

In my opinion you can find rude pepole everywhere... even in the most charming country of the world!

*plume* said...

I've been at the Café Charbon once and I found no rudeness in there. People were nice and kind, and the place really charming... Maybe my opinion isn't really worthy, because I'm French, but believe me,the service had nothing to do with what we can find in a real French Café.

I agree that we have a lot to learn from Americans about service in Cafés and Restaurants. I'm not sure that was the case here. I heard that many places in the Lower East Side are closing, becauses of the high increasing rents in that part of Manhattan...

I love NY, thanks a lot, Brian for my daily glimpse into your wonderful city. Your articles are always interesting, well written, and your photos are fantastic..