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Author and journalist

Service with a simile

I’m fascinated with service customs in California vs. Toronto every time I go back and forth between the two.  Let’s take food service.  In Toronto your waiter is probably an out-of-work actor.  He does the job more or less competently but knows he’s too smart for it.  Diners in Toronto restaurants, therefore, spend mental energy thinking of the clever remark to say, nonchalantly, that will let your waiter know you know he’s too smart for his job.  You’re usually rewarded by a break in his demeanour, perhaps a chuckle, and possibly better service.  This applies equally to female waiters as well as male, since they have in common that both are in the acting profession and both usually have boyfriends.

In California so many things are different.  The professionalism is polished to a squeaky, high sheen. My computer wasn’t connecting to the Internet at our hotel (I know you just gasped at not getting your blog) and asked at the front desk for help.  I was told the Tech Person was in a meeting and would be five minutes.  I sat next to the authentic fake gas log fire and waited. After five minutes a young man in a blazer practically sprinted over to me and asked if he could be of service.  He fixed my problem, with polite explanations and many Please and Thank yous and Ma’ams, and went away to his regular career, which is as a bellhop.

Restaurant service here is usually by Latina and Latino people.  It is not likely that this is their only job. It’s also not likely that they have too high an opinion of the quirky preferences of spoiled rich people.  The man at the breakfast table next to us asked for a muffin, “but not a soft top, a hard top. You guys don’t cook your muffins enough.” After much more in this vein the waiter brought a muffin on a plate and said, “Will this do it?” “No,” said the man.  “It’s a soft top.”  The waiter waited until the man decided to eat it anyway, in sullen silence.  I had to look away from embarrassment.

Diners in California restaurants who spend mental energy thinking of the clever remark will be rewarded with: Nada. Zip. Bupkes.  Not just because of a language difference but because the person giving the service is stretched far tighter than any out-of-work Canadian actor ever could be, stretched as they are. I made a clever remark to the Tech Bellhop and he didn’t even break stride.  You could almost hear the human being in him pleading to be left alone.

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