Friday, January 05, 2007


AOG, London

Back in London now. "Only in Miami is Cuba so far away" sings Bette Midler. Only in London is America so far away, says I. It is always nice to go to the US. It is easy to compare London and New York. They have similarities, But it is their differences which I like, and I hope neither is ever like the other. It would ruin both.

Everytime I go across the pond, I discover- or reinforce- another nagging little thing about the US which makes me want to slap somebody upside the head.

Picture it- Manhattan, 27th December 2006, we go out to eat in Greenwich. We find a restaurant which reminds me of Diurno in Madrid. Our friends say how it is a really nice place, and the food is good and this and than.

Problems- We have to wait for a table, The music is mega loud and annoying (like in those chinese buffets where the music is designed for you to eat and get out. Clever the Chinese...if demonic!). I won't go into the price of things.

We finally get a table by the door which we have to decline as the weather outside is approaching ice-age. We get-grudgingly- another table.

Our waitress arrived. She was the typical non-nice waitress masquerading as Miss Sympathy. None of us bought her niceness. "Where are you from?" She asked with fake niceness. "Spain and here" we replied. She looked at me. "So...are you enjoying your christmas or hannukah or whatever you celebrate over there?" She asked. No one at the table heard her. That nugget of ignorance was mine to savor. I could not believe it. Especially the condescending "or whatever" part. If you don't know, keep it shut dear.

As per usual, not only did she not have a clue where we were from, she committed the diplomatic faux pas equivalent of asking someone from Saudi Arabia if they are enjoying Diwali. I cannot expect americans to know where Spain is. But if, unfortunately, Spain is known on this earth for one thing, it is for being a Catholic country.

And I don't say that with pride, I say it with shame and sadness. I am not saying that there are no Jewish people in Spain. Increasingly there are more and more these days (this can only be a good thing). But 99% of the population of Spain no more celebrate Hannukah than the people of
Massachusetts hold bullfights on Martha's Vineyard.

The evening continued on with our fake-niceness waitress, no bread, no water at the table for ages, cutlery which arrived after the food did, no one to take our drinks orders until after we got the cutlery, and then, and this is what hurt me most of all, the $18.00 tip our friends agreed upon for bad service.

"They work for tips, their salary is really low", they said. I was totally against anything above $3.oo. The service had been atrocious. But one of our friends has worked as a waiter. "And I know how little we get paid, and what a difficult job it is!", said he. It was my first night in New York. I did not want to cause a scene. I complied and agreed to paid an undeserved tip.

Very unlike me to do such a thing. But I did not want to ruin everyone's evening. The fact that I just wrote that last sentence is testimony to my many years in the UK. Or perhaps I am getting older. Or both. Or neither. Maybe it was jetlag and fatigue...

I prefer the last option.

We all spoke about the waitress. We all wished she had been more herself and less fake-nice. Fake-nice is rather unpolite. I prefer real-evil. Or normal-sarcastic. Or even hormonal. But fake-nice is just insulting. It is like saying "I am being nice to you because I have to, not because I actually am. In reality, I could have you on toast for breakfast you idiot". I would prefer that. Evil. It works. You know where you stand with evil. Or sarcasm. You can open channels of communication. But with fake-nice, all you can do is wish for the evening to end soon so you don't have to bear the waitress any more than what you have to.

Sometimes you get fake-nice in the UK. But not often. The English are quite good at barely-passing-for-polite. And that is much more bearable because it allows you to feel smug in your feeling of superiority as aclient, and it allows them to resent you and spit on your soup.

You no longer need to wonder about how the black plague spread on this continent.

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