giovedì 7 maggio 2009

Paris, je t'aime

I was in Paris the other day experiencing inverted culture shock. (Obviously, I didn't go just for that, but I thought it would be interesting to blog about.) Inverted culture shock is a term that I've invented  to describe what happens when you go to a foreign country not from your own country but from an even more foreign country and you are surprised by all the wrong things.  Inverted culture shock is when you are British, you go to Paris and you are surprised by the freezing cold weather, the cleanliness and lack of dog dirt at your feet, and the politeness and caution of the drivers. You probably have to live in Milan for a while to understand it.*

I also got into an argument with a French person and, for the first time in my life, actually won it. It happened like this.

My colleagues and I were having dinner in a somewhat posh hotel and decided to share a bottle of wine to go with our meal. The guy who ordered it said the name, pointed to it on the menu and, as we were having a bit of banter with the waiter, jokingly added "le moins cher".  The waiter brought the bottle from the cellar, showed it to us, the guy tasted it and we drank it with our meal. It was only when the bill arrived that we realised that this wine was clearly not "le moins cher". It was significantly more "cher" than the one that we had ordered. The waiter, when we pointed out the mistake said, "Yes, but that's the one that you drank." 

He disappeared into the background and we had a whispered conversation in agonies of British embarrassment. Should we say any more or just pay the money and be annoyed about it? 

It seemed that most people were inclined to shut up and pay up when the waiter came back, but something got into me and I found myself saying, "We did tell you which one we wanted quite clearly twice," to which the waiter responded, "Yes, but I showed you what you were drinking and you drank it." 

I said, "Yes, we made a mistake, but you made more of a mistake than we did," and eventually he agreed that he had made a mistake and charged us for the bottle that we had asked for.

This kind of exchange always leaves me with my heart beating a little bit faster and feeling very embarrassed. The waiter, on the other hand, was clearly unscathed. He brought us the (reduced) bill cheerfully and, when we went to collect our room keys from him later,  said jokingly and with a huge smile on his face, "Your rooms are tents in the garden. They're the cheapest ones!"

Oh to be French and to be able to argue and not care!

* Emma at Life, Lavoro and Luca claims that the French are also scruffy dressers. I wouldn't go that far. Yet.

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