Friday, August 18, 2006

French Cuisine, Anyone? (Part I)

I work in Quebec. My office is very close to Ontario. I can see the Parliament Buildings from my window. In my time here I've noticed a difference between the Quebec restaurants and the English ones I'm used to. The first time I noticed this was when I went to a local Bistro.

Often times, on Friday morning, the team in which I work will take a bit of time and have a staff breakfast. We used to go to this one particular Bistro. My first experience there happened to coincide with my first experience eating in a Quebec restaurant.

I walk in the front doors and there's a bunch of tables. I notice the ash tray's, and the smoke that permeates the air. I think "That's odd. They have the smoking section at the front, rather than the back." Now, in Sault Ste. Marie, smoking has been banned in all public places. Same with Ottawa. But not Gatineau. So, seeing smoking in a restaurant took me by small surprise at first, but whatever. No big deal.

But, we were lead past those tables, through a hallway, up a few stairs into another room. Nobody was in that room. "Cool!" I thought, "Not just a non-smoking section, but one that is sufficiently divided from the smoking section. This is sweet!"

As more people came in and occupied the other tables, they lit up. There was no non-smoking section at all! Isn't that illegal? Perhaps not in Quebec. After all, apparently giving yourself, and those around you, cancer is deeply rooted in the French culture. I'm told by various people "Smoking is such a social thing. Normally I don't smoke. But I do when I'm at a party."

To that I say "Ahhh, yes. What better way to spend time with your friends than by slowly killing them."

Anyway, I digress.

So, as we're finishing our breakfasts, we're given the bill. Each of us gets a bill. The bills are placed on little plastic trays, and given to each of us. I look at the cost. I had two eggs, bacon, homefries, toast, and a glass of orange juice. It came to over $7.00! How do they justify that?! Were those eggs golden eggs?! At my university I could get the same thing for just over $4. This was over a three dollar difference. Furthermore, the quantity at this Bistro was a lot less than at the university.

So I look in my wallet. All I have are twenties. So I put one on the tray. The waitress comes back and people start paying. Most are giving her money and saying "keep the change." Now, I'm not about to pay with a $20 for a $7 breakfast and tell her to keep the change. Especially after I've just lost six months of my life due to all that cigarette smoke.

So, she gives me some change back. Not the proper change, mind you, just some change. She's off by about 13 cents - not in my favor. But it's 13 cents. Big whoop-di-freaking-do.

Now, I understand that they probably don't want to deal with pennies, but if the bill was $7.43, and a $20 is given, then err on the side of the customer. Give them $12.60 or $12.65. It's only a few cents. But if you err on the side of the business that looks really bad. If you err on the side of the customer they think "Cool. They gave me a couple extra cents!" and then they're inclined to tip more.

The other thing about tips is that I like to be surreptitious about it. It's part of our North American culture. We tip, but we don't talk about it. When you leave a tip behind, you leave it as you're leaving. You don't calculate the tip in front of the waitress either, unless you're telling her to keep the change.

So, as she's taking our money, after she had taken mine and given me the change, she was stacking the bill trays. She didn't take mine. The stack was right beside me, so I put my tray on top of the stack. She took it off and gave it back to me.


When she left I asked the table why she did that. Someone told me "Because you didn't tip her."

"WHAT?!?!?!" I had been planning on tipping her before that. I left a few pennies on the table. I figured she already got her tip when she gave me the incorrect change. They already stole enough of my money with the grossly over-priced breakfast.

To be continued....


Catherine said...

You had a very bad French food experience. Was the service included ? Your breakfast was quite expensive.

French course

Andrew said...

Yeah, in retrospect my was committing the Fundamental Attribution Error. I've eaten at a few more Quebec restaurants since then, and that one restaurant is just bad. Others are better.

Thanks for your comment. Incidentally, I just started a French course a week ago today!