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Tuesday
Aug092005

le Fast Food

0ham1.jpgThe Customer is (not)Always Right

It seems like here in France they’ve never heard that old adage ‘The Customer is Always Right’. Service here is a joke. You pretty much work that out from the moment you step off the plane. After clearing the cattle call that’s immigration and customs go to the Information Desk and ask them something and you’ll see what I mean. What with one thing and another you’d think they’d be keen to be at least civil so we’d spend a few more shekels and come again. But no. More often that not you get the famous Gallic distain. But I suppose with 80 million visitors a year they can afford to be a bit blasé. Hell, with those kind of numbers they could safely insult a million visitors and it probably wouldn’t matter.

Here it seems that “customer” is a dirty word. You know, like that sign says - “This would be a great little business if it weren’t for the bloody customers”.

Go into almost any retailer here, big or small, you’re as likely as not to be ignored by the sales staff unless you’re prepared for some serious brown-nosing. Suddenly you’re The Invisible Man. All they see is an ‘etranger’ as it’s known here. This is an old French word which I think means “One who is far from home with no mates and deserves to be severely humiliated”.

God help you if you don’t know the password – ‘Excusez-moi de vous deranger, monsieur(madame)’ – ‘Excuse me for disturbing you, Sir(madam)’ (I know it’s an inconvenience but could you possibly get off your derriére and sell me that overpriced wing-wang you have in the display there?)

I’ve been in Paris five years now and I’m still amazed at their attitude. For instance, this morning I fancied breakfast at a well-known fast-food chain that will remain anonymous because they might sue my arse. Oh O.K. it was McDonalds. Yeah I know, I don’t know what came over me. You’d think this would be easy, right? I mean Paris is full of Seppos. And most of them don’t speak any French. Apart from ‘bonjour’. And they have to eat, right? And McDonalds is an American company, right? An American company that built its success on good ol’ ‘have a nice day’ customer service. ‘You want fries with that?’ Not in Paris buddy.

The 15th Arrondisement, where I’m staying in a Pension,(which I thought was an old people’s home and that’s why it was so cheap but it turned out to be a one-star hotel - saggy single-bed, dunny and douche down the hall, (no food, no phone, no pets, can’t get no cigarettes) is a nice bourgeois kind of neighbourhood (or quartier as they call them here). It’s close to the Seine and about a twenty minute stroll (as the brochure says) to La Tour Eiffel. The bakers and cafés have English menus and cater for English-speaking tourists. As in, if you point at something and gibber like an idiot they’ll sell it to you.

Two streets back from the river there is a bunch of Lebanese restaurants where they welcome foreigners with open arms. They’ll stiff you A$30 for a pretty ordinary “Mixed Plate”. But at least they smile at you while they’re doing it. And you’re none the wiser ‘cause by the time you’ve converted Euros to dollars you’re back at the hotel yelling at Marge “Hey..the Lebos took me for 10 bucks”. But you’re too stuffed with Homous and Felafel to be bothered going back. And by then the guy will have forgotten his English anyway.

Ah foreign travel…..don’t you love it?

I think the locals are getting to know me. Every morning I buy the Pommie ‘Times’ from the newsagent on the corner of Rue St Charles and Rue Linois. Then I cross the street for a couple of ‘pain au chocolat’ from the boulangerie. I speak my crap French to the staff and they reply in their crap English. A fair exchange across the cultural divide. They wish me ‘good day’ when I leave and I bid them a ‘bonne journée’. All nice and civilized. Just don’t mention “Mururoa Atoll” or “Greenpeace” in the same sentence. They’re still not over it - how we boycotted their goods for a year or whatever it was.

Next door to the paper shop is McDonalds. Like I said, this morning something came over me. Some strange masochistic hankering for a good old no-frills filtered Maccas coffee and maybe one of their Danish.

The place was near-deserted except for a couple of Saddams cronies on their way to play channel-crossing at Calais. I stepped up to the counter. There were two women on duty. Two women who’ll never see forty again. Hang on..what’s going on here? Where are the happy, smiling faces of the young oppressed? The $4 an hour child labour that McDonalds uses in the rest of the world? Must be something to do with the French labour laws. No matter. I’m here for coffee not swap banalities with some spotty-faced youth wearing tennis shades and a smiley badge.

The women stare at me like I’ve just dragged dog-shit in on my shoes. Maybe I have. It’s a distinct possibility in this town. I’m a bit disconcerted now. I can overlook the fact they’re not smiling but neither’s said anything. They just glare at me. No ‘Welcome to McDonalds’, no ‘may I take your order Sir?’, no ‘nice hat...where can I get one?’. I charge in where angels fear to tread. ‘Bonjour’ I say with my best Parisien accent. ‘Bonjour’ comes back begrudgingly. I want to say ‘Sorry..I’m having a bad dream..I thought I was in McDonalds’. But I don’t. It would be lost on them anyway. So I say (looking up at the menu of Happy Meals that look nothing like the sad fare served up on the tray – a blatant case of misrepresentation if ever I saw one), I say, I say;

‘Je voudrais un café crème s’il vous plait’  (‘I’d like a white coffee please’)

Now they know I’m un etranger. One look has told them that. Even before I opened my mouth they knew I was an idiot tourist – one of the 80 million that invades their country annually. I’m wearing a T-shirt that says, en Francais, ‘Fuck the French’. I’m not, but I could have been, judging by the reaction I get. They say in French something like:

‘That is not on the menu you idiot...you must choose between the paper cup of dishwater we laughingly call coffee with the two pieces of burnt muffin smothered with poodle puke OR the so-called coffee with what we like to think are pancakes but in reality are re-fried lumps of guano and if you want milk or jam or butter or, God Forbid, maple syrup, you’re going to have to ask twice and Kiss Our Arses at the same time.’ They wave in the direction of the illuminated menu and dare me to reply.

‘O.K.’ I say. Pretty-well every Frog understands ‘O.K.’. ‘D’accord’ is better. But they get ‘O.K’.

‘I’ll take the guano’ I say bravely.

It’s obviously a Big Ask. They mutter profanities under their breath - something about “the dickhead in the shorts and stupid hat” One sheila slaps a tray down and the other goes out the back to scrape some birdshit off the pavement. But ‘merde!’. I’ve only got three Euro and the guano is three Euro twenty centimes. And I really want it now. I go through all my pockets. Shit! A lousy twenty centimes short. Maybe they’ll take a travellers cheque? I tell the lady I’m short. She says she saw that as soon as I came in. No, I don't know what she said. But I know it wasn’t nice. She starts waving her hands around and yelling at me. This is getting out of control. I came in for a cup of coffee for Chrissake. So I did what any other self-respecting etranger would do in the same place. I told her where she could put le café and le pancake. And you know what? I think she understood. Have a nice day.

Disclaimer: All the Food in this story is fictitious and any resemblance to actual Food, living or dead, is purely coincidental.le ratpack
le ratpack

Reader Comments (1)

Malkie, you're mad.
August 9, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterE

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