“Yes. I see that.” I patiently reply in my best midwestern accent, the epitome of ultra-politeness.
“I’m curious to know the vintage. The year.”
“I know what a vintage is," he snarks. "It’s a…a...you know, it’s a 2012, 2013. Yes,13. It’s a red wine. You know. French wine.”
Ten minutes later he returns with my soup. I look up from my Kindle copy of the Oxford Companion to Wine and, again, with both determination and reluctance (I always worry something vile may happen to my food if I’m perceived as rude which is why, if I complain in a restaurant, it’s always after I’ve been served):
“Perhaps I can see the bottle. I'm studying wine and I’d like more information. May I see the bottle?”
“What do you want to know?” he exasperates.
"Ok," he mutters with his back already turned and moving away.
This from the same man who smiled brightly with open arms fifteen minutes earlier when I paused in front of the restaurant – one of a dozen in the two blocks between the Palais Royale-Musée du Louvre and Louvre-Rivoli metro stations - as a not yet committed patron, scanning the posted menu, looking for something appetizing to inspire and sustain me through the rest of my walk to the library and the afternoon of study that lie ahead.
Head bowed in my book, I hear footsteps approach, then, with a sharp left, the steps deviate towards the entrance where he welcomes a new guest before returning to the bar for a leisurely chat with the bartender as they both gaze through the giant sunlit windows to people-watch the museum-weary travelers search for a seated repose from a morning of intense artistic mindedness.
Five minutes later, as if driven by the alarm of an internal timer, he moves with a hurried clip towards the kitchen, then re-emerges with my lunch, I hope, in hand which he confirms by placing the order squarely on the table in front of me as I quickly move my napkin to give room for the presentation. Taking one more glance around the nearly empty room, I wait for him to utter the obligatory “bon appétit” then slide my business card towards him with a smile that reads 'See? We're practically colleagues.'
“I’m still very interested in knowing more about the wine. You don’t have to be troubled with telling me about it. I can get what I need from the bottle. The menu is very lacking in detail and as someone who works in the industry, I would love to know more about what I’m drinking. May I see the bottle?” He picks up my card, turns it over, rolls his shoulders back standing a little taller now and in a higher register than his normal voice, say “Oh. I see. One moment.”
I was as delighted to receive my food as I was at having not ordered more fearing I’d surely annoyed him by now. Of course, this probably never happens in real life. But then there’s the internet and the strange things people do to one another in secret retribution for crimes like asking for too much water or taking too long to order. As I wait for my soup to cool down a bit, I swipe through the pages about the Rhone Valley. Re-reading the text, the refresher does me well and I’m growing eager by the minute to compare what I taste in the glass and read on the screen to what will be revealed when I finally, if ever, view the bottle. “Et viola.” He returns and presents the bottle cuddled in his left palm, label up and secured with his right hand behind the bottleneck as trained.
To show I meant no harm, I quickly click out of Kindle and into the camera app to snap a picture of the front then the back of the bottle. I say thank you twice then send him on his way back to not being bothered by me. I finger zoom the photos on my phone and suddenly it occurs to me I have no idea what's in my glass. Is this what I ordered from the menu? Is it the 2012, no 2013, he described? Or is it the 2015 bottle that was just in front of me? I'm no longer confident it's even Syrah. For a moment, I sulk over my soup because I know that I shouldn’t have to go through this for a simple ask. I feel ignored and irrelevant then behave accordingly extending way too much courtesy when I should have demanded the same; the respect that would have been given to someone else on a better day, with a bigger wallet or different look or whatever it is that I lack that allowed him to behave as if I was not worthy of my request much less a timely, considerate response. The familiar insecurities creep up but only for a second. Then, I realize - thank god faster now having endured this scenario on both sides of the Atlantic more times than I care to count - that this isn't worth the energy to ponder any longer. Onward and upward, I coach myself. Finishing my soup, I decide I am not going to do the usual 'prove them wrong’ thing of over tipping. While not obligatory in a living wage society, I imagine tips from foreigners to be a bonus for working in proximity to the world’s most famous art repository. Instead, when I'm done, I leave no tip as I fold the credit card receipt into my wallet. After washing my hands in the basement level restroom, I walk up into the light of the main dining hall and drop a euro on the table on my way out. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I watched Fargo too many times and I'm in a forgiving kinda ass of a midwestern fugue even though I’m from the East Coast. Maybe because tipping is Pavlovian. Or maybe to say thanks for assuming a better posture after I had to all but shout to be taken seriously. But then not really, no. I think it was more thanks. For nothing.