Sunday, May 20, 2018
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S. Amjad Hussain

Hospitality knows no mother tongue

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    Celebrity waiter Jeremy Fitzgerald serves food to guests during the Lourdes University event.

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    Dr. S. Amjad Hussain.

Among the daily spectacle of government by tweet and sundry high-profile firings, a recent news item from Vancouver, Canada, brought a breath of fresh air. And, just for the record, it was not fake news.

Guillaume Rey, a French waiter at a Vancouver restaurant was fired for aggressive, rude, and disrespectful behavior towards the customers. He filed a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal against the restaurant and its owner, stating that his firing was discrimination against his French culture.

Read the previous column from S. Amjad Hussain

In our small world, there are thousands of tongues representing an array of varied and disparate cultures. Though misunderstandings do happen between people speaking different languages, rudeness and insulting behavior are not part of those communications. People in some societies tend to be rough and rude, but the French top the list for being aloof, rude, and looking down at those who are different.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, a British columnist, sprang to the defense of the fired waiter. Writing in the Guardian, she laid the blame at the feet of the customers. To her, a waiter’s job is only to bring the food to the table and not to charm the customers. She said that French waiters are being French and since the French are not going to change, we should put up with their behavior.

Ms. Cosslett’s lame and lukewarm defense of the French rudeness aside, even the French foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has expressed concern about the rudeness of his countrymen. France, he said, suffers from a “welcome deficit.” A study once showed that foreign visitors to France are 30 percent less satisfied with their stay in France than in other countries.

Many tourists who visit France, as I have on many occasions, come back with the impression that unless one knows the French language, the French people will not even talk to you.

About 20 years ago, while making a phone reservation on the Chunnel train (the tunnel under the English Channel connecting France and Great Britain), I spoke to a French reservation agent. Toward the end of our conversation, I asked if I would be able to pay for a French taxi ride in U.S. dollars. Rather than simply saying no, he snapped back by asking if taxi drivers in New York City accept French francs? Sorry to ruffle your plumes, monsieur.

Rudeness and lack of courtesy in not limited to the French alone. Many upper end restaurants in some cities in this country exhibit the same trait. So do many expensive Indian restaurants in the U.S. In one such restaurant in Ann Arbor, Mich. the maître d’ struts around like a peacock, never making eye contact with the customers. And, if some customer tries to ask a question, he dispatches a waiter to take care of the inquiry.

He should come to Toledo to see how a waitstaff and maître d interact with the customers. I would recommend he visit Carrabba’s Italian Grill in Maumee, where the friendly and engaging manager-proprietor Herra could show him a thing or two about how to interact with the customers.

I will take the informality of an American bistro or a mom-and-pop restaurant over any posh restaurant with an arrogant waitstaff. When one goes out to have a meal, one should not be preoccupied with what the waiter expects of us. It should be the other way round. The customers should be able to enjoy the meal in a pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere facilitated by a courteous wait staff.

But back to the fired waiter in Vancouver. The Human Rights Tribunal has asked Monsieur Rey to explain what it is about his French heritage that would result in behavior that people would misinterpret as a violation of workplace standards of acceptable conduct. That question begs for research worthy of a PhD thesis.

It would be helpful if the tribunal asks the waiter to see how the waitstaff in one of our restaurants in our neck of the woods functions. It might be helpful for him to observe Chris, Bobby, and Christina at Sam’s Diner in Toledo work effortlessly to serve their customers with their down home friendliness and charm.

S. Amjad Hussain is an emeritus professor of surgery and humanities at the University of Toledo. His column appears every other week in The Blade. Contact him at aghaji@bex.net.

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