RESTAURANT ETIQUETTE, PART TWO: BY POPULAR DEMAND

My recent post concerning restaurant etiquette in France caused a bit of a buzz on various social media platforms. Lots of folks pointed out that most of the rules that I had proposed were simply grounded in common sense. Others replied that common sense isn't as common as it used to be. Some readers expressed disappointment that I hadn't discussed appropriate dress or the proper use of utensils or the correct way to taste wine. Rather than deprive my readers of my thoughts on these matters, freely given and worth every penny, here's Part Two.

PROPER ATTIRE: You're not going to wear that, are you?
A rule of thumb might be: The higher the expected tab, the more conservative the clothing.

Denim jeans are ubiquitous in France, on guys and gals alike. And ladies, the more bling the better. Ripped jeans are still a thing. God knows why, but She isn't telling. Don't. Just don't.

Shorts? Fine for lunch at that beach cabana. Long pants for dinner, please. Yoga pants? If you don't plan on doing the Downward-Facing Dog during dinner, don't wear the gear for it. That NY Yankee baseball cap? Ditch it before you step inside. Why the hell do so many French people wear those things, anyway? I'm a (Brooklyn) Dodger fan, myself.

Use common sense. There's that phrase again. Common Sense. If Eppie Lederer (Ann Landers) and Jeanne Phillips (Abigail 'Dear Abby' Van Buren) could make careers out of dispensing common sense, why not Ira (Ira)?

WHEN THE WINE ARRIVES: Don't pretend that you know what you're doing. You probably don't.
We usually order the house wine en pichet (in a pitcher) when it's available. But some restaurants only serve bottled wine and sometimes you want to try something special.

Unless you spot a wine that you know and particularly like on the list, ask the waiter for a suggestion. You'd like a light, fruity rosé for the start, a full-bodied red for the boeuf bourguignon? Ask. Limited budget? Add the words pas trop cher. Rather than being laughed at for trying to be the expert that you are not, you may get extra attention for being willing to place yourself in your server's hands.

When the server opens the wine and pours you a sip, you are being given the opportunity to discover if the wine is corked. Just that. A small percentage of wines with natural corks can be tainted by a chemical called TCA. Screw-top wines and wines with artificial corks cannot be tainted in that way, but you'll probably be given the opportunity to take a taste anyway. After the server pours, smell the wine and take a sip. No dramatics. Just sniff and sip. If the wine smells like your dog smells when he comes in from the rain, if it tastes flat and perhaps a bit astringent (overly acidic or bitter), the wine is corked. Not drinkable. You may return it for a replacement. 

Just about the only reason to return a bottle after first taste is if it's corked. Sweeter than you expected? Drier than you expected? That's on you. Not a sufficient reason to return.

Swirling the wine in the glass to test its 'legs' or holding the glass up to the light to see color or spending an inordinate amount of time with your nose in the glass before that first sip? You ain't Jancis Robinson. Don't pretend to be. Take the sip, nod your head, and let your server get on with it. If you feel the need to impress your table mates, do your little dance after everyone's glass has been poured.

TABLE MANNERS: Don't eat peas with your knife just about covers it.   
The best restaurants make certain that everyone at the table receives their courses at the same time. Otherwise, the rules on when you may start eating are simple, keeping in mind that it's always polite to wait until everyone is served. 
1.) If your food is served cold, as a green salad, it's proper to wait until all are served. 
2.) If your food is served warm, it is acceptable to begin immediately. A courteous table mate still waiting for service will quickly give permission. 
3.) When dining with the Queen, wait for her to begin regardless.

Europeans tend to bring food to their mouths with the tines of the fork facing down. Americans tend to eat with the tines facing up. Both methods do the job. Both methods can be abused. If the rest of the folks in the restaurant are concerned about the direction that your tines are pointing, that's their problem, not yours. Just don't slurp or burp (loudly) or chew with your mouth open or talk too loudly or laugh until the wine comes pouring out of your nose. 

TURN OFF YOUR PHONE.

And don't eat peas with your knife.

TURN OFF YOUR PHONE: Do I really have to say that? 
A reminder. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE.

THE TAB: Have the discussion sooner rather than later.
If you want separate tabs, ask for separate tabs. If you don't, decide beforehand how you will deal with the money. Will you split the bill in equal portions? Will you attempt to decipher who ordered the dry-aged Black Angus rib and who just had the mixed salad and how much was due from each? Whatever you decide, be quick about it. The meal is over. The longer you take to decide who owes what, the more likely you are to be driving home in tense silence. 

Having gone over the bill, it's alright to ask questions. Quietly and politely. I recently pointed out that our tab didn't include our carafe of wine. Really. I did. The server thought for a minute, then smiled and, walking away, simply said, "Offert." My good deed for the day and her's too. She'll remember me.

THAT'S IT: Questions will be answered in Comments.









IMPEACHMENT: FOR EUROPEANS AND FOR AMERICANS WHO THINK THAT THEY KNOW BUT DON'T

Talk of the possibility of impeaching President Trump is in the news. As an expat living in France, I've had occasion to explain just what impeachment means and how it works to some of my European friends. For the curious among you, here's the down and dirty version.

There are two ways that the American Constitution provides for the removal from office of a duly elected, living President.

Amendment XXV of the Constitution was ratified about 50 years ago and cleans up a couple of lingering questions including the provision of a path for succession should a living President be unable to fulfill the duties of the office through illness or other circumstance. Although there are those who would declare Trump unfit under Amendment XXV, that's really not a serious possibility.

Impeachment, however, is a serious possibility these days. Written into the body of the Constitution is the following:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. 

Note the distinction between impeachment and conviction. Impeachment roughly corresponds to an indictment. The House of Representatives impeaches (indicts) through a majority vote and supplies the managers (prosecutors). The President (defendant) chooses his/her own counsel, not necessarily elected politicians. The Senate acts as the jury. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides. A two-thirds vote of  the Senators present is required for conviction. The only penalty for conviction is removal from office.

Note the listed causes for impeachment. Treason and bribery speak for themselves. But what is the definition of a high crime or misdemeanor? In simple, real world terms, the answer to that question is that high crimes or misdemeanors are whatever the House says that they are. The history of Presidential impeachments is instructive in this regard.

Two Presidents have been impeached. Democrat Andrew Jackson was impeached by a Republican Congress in an egregious display of partisanship, primarily because of Jackson's refusal to adhere to a law, later deemed unconstitutional, designed to limit his Presidential power. He was acquitted by one vote on three of eleven articles of impeachment. Following the third acquittal, his trial was adjourned. Democrat Bill Clinton was impeached by a Republican Congress for lying under oath concerning his sexual activity with an intern and for attempting to obstruct the investigation. Neither of the two articles of impeachment managed to gain a clear majority of Senators, much less two-thirds.

It would not be a stretch to say that both impeachments were politically motivated and not based on circumstances that the Founders had in mind. But they were, nonetheless, legitimate. They followed form. There's a saying in American jurisprudence: A good prosecutor can convince a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Although a President is not a ham sandwich, the point is valid when it comes to impeachment. The House, sitting as a grand jury, can indict for whatever reason that it chooses.

Contrary to popular belief, Richard Nixon was not impeached, much less convicted. After the House Judiciary Committee passed articles of impeachment, it was clear that the House as a whole would vote to impeach, But it was not certain initially that the Senate would convict. After release of a particularly incriminating recording and after the Saturday Night Massacre (when Nixon fired high-level Justice Department officials who would not order an end to investigations), conviction in the Senate became a virtual certainty. Nixon resigned.

Can Trump be impeached? Certainly. Will he be impeached? Right now, that's an open question. I personally believe that he is most likely to be impeached if he continues to order that House subpoenas for testimony and documents be ignored. If that continues after a Supreme Court ruling against him, he most definitely will be impeached. If impeached, would he be convicted? Under that circumstance, defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, I have to believe that he will be. But we're not there yet. Like Speaker of the House Pelosi, my inclination is to go slowly and see if Trump obliges by putting the noose around his own neck.


SPRING BLOOMS ON THE TERRACE: MAY, 2019

While hunting for our retirement home in France, we knew that we wanted to be in a village, a village with a bakery, with a place to buy milk and eggs. Maybe a butcher. Bread trucks are fine for some. Not for us. And we didn't want to have to climb into a car just because we ran out of butter. Restaurant? Nice but not necessary. Cash point?  Petrol station? Nice but...

The house itself needed to have a place for me to hide...I mean, to work. And separate living and dining spaces so that Cathey could cook without having to entertain at the same time. In other words, no 'open plan' combination living/dining room with a kitchen corner.

Finally, there needed to be outside space. Not a communal courtyard or a piece of sidewalk commandeered for personal use. A private garden or a terrace, thank you. Attached. The idea of a plot on the edge of town on which to grow veggies is an interesting European concept but not sufficient to our needs.

In the end, we found exactly what we wanted. A house on a pedestrian walkway with no through auto traffic. A baker and two butchers and shops and a bar/restaurant all just a few meters away. Cathey has a nice salon on a different floor than the kitchen. I have an 'office' on the top floor and out of the way. No cash point and no petrol station, but so what?

And a terrace. Cathey says that she's only just begun to configure it to her liking. I like it just fine but then, I'm a guy.












Spring cleaning in progress. Not our house but caught my eye on one of my walks around town as did the following.





RESTAURANT ETIQUETTE IN FRANCE: SIMPLE PRIMER (WITH TONGUE IN MY AMERICAN CHEEK)

My recent reading of a poor internet review of a favorite restaurant of ours prompted this post. Some people simply should not be allowed internet access. Speech may rightly be free, but it shouldn't be worthless.

From reading the review, I could determine that the reviewer was a tourist who started out in a bad mood because he had to pay extra for parking a camper van that exceeded the maximum height for parking in the free lot. His party arrived at the restaurant at the end of lunch and without a reservation. At first, he was told that an empty table that he pointed out was reserved. When he persisted, he was informed that lunch was over. Since none of the other restaurants in town were still open, the reviewer had to miss lunch.

Let me count the ways...

RESERVATIONS ARE NECESSARY. Maybe not at Burger King, maybe not in a touristy restaurant in a touristy destination. But if you are really hungry, if you really want to try that restaurant that everybody's talking about, or if you just want to be certain to get eats, RESERVATIONS ARE NECESSARY. In some cases, that's because the house has prepared the exact number of covers for the reservations in hand. I've seen consistent regulars on a first-name basis with the chef/owner turned away because they forgot to call ahead. And arriving for lunch after 1:30pm without a reservation is almost always a deal breaker. Yes, the posted hours may run until 2:00pm, but that's closing time, not the time of the last seating. In fact, in many French restaurants, there's only one seating for lunch. Arrive by 1:00pm to be safe or you take your chances. And don't forget. RESERVATIONS ARE NECESSARY.

Don't expect to be the exception. Be gracious if you are turned away.

Wait at the door to be noticed. Don't seat yourself. Some restaurants move around the tables and chairs based on the reservations. That cozy table for two in the corner was reserved last week for the newlywed friends of the chef. If you've called ahead, there'll be a place for you. If you haven't, you'll just have to take what you get...or nothing at all. Wait at the door. 

While you are waiting at the door, and if you haven't made a reservation, practice the French for the number of people in your party. Numbers aren't that hard. And if you can't say Bonjour or Bonsoir or Merci or S'il vous plait at the appropriate times, what are you doing in France anyway?

There will be dogs. There will be large dogs and there will be small dogs. Some will not be groomed to American Kennel Club standards. Some will appear to have completely avoided any grooming at all. Deal with it. If the dog has been brought into the restaurant, the dog has probably been in every restaurant that its masters have visited, as many restaurants as you have visited. I have never eaten in a restaurant in which a dog has misbehaved. Adults, yes. Children, yes. Dogs, no.

Speaking of children, French children don't run and scream and throw things in restaurants. (They don't throw tantrums in grocery stores either, for that matter.) If yours do, the French won't think that it's cute. They'll think that you are a lousy parent.

Don't whistle or snap your fingers at your server. Just don't.

You can request off-menu items. You can request a vegan or a gluten-free option. You can request substitutions. Request is the operative word. Every server in every French restaurant that I have visited has listened to such requests politely. Honoring such requests is another matter. Désolé is French for I'm sorry. In other words, NO. Accept and move on.

Service compris means that the tip is included with your bill. There are various ways that this fact might appear on your bill (SC, STC, TTC) because the French like to confuse you. Assuming the usual, that service is included in the bill and that the service itself was proper, we will often leave change in a bar or casual cafe, a small bill in a fancier restaurant.

Study carefully. There will be a quiz.






 

STUPID STUFF - APRIL/MAY, 2019: SPEEDING PIDGEON, LYFT, US TAXES, REALITY, AND MORE

A German speed camera recently snapped a picture of a pidgeon flying 45 kph in a 30 kph zone. Law enforcement does not believe that an arrest is imminent.

In response to a lawsuit concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act, Lyft's lawyers argued in court that Lyft is not a transportation company. They are a technology platform. That's like Ben and Jerry saying that they don't make ice cream. They provide cultural commentary that tastes good. UPDATE: The EU courts have just ruled that Airbnb is not a real estate company. It's a technology platform! Live long and be amazed...

The US Congress has moved forward the (intentionally?) misnamed Taxpayer First Act that would prohibit the government from developing free tax preparation software. Sellers of for-profit software who distribute campaign contributions on a bipartisan basis helped write the legislation. But campaign contributions have nothing to do with the legislation, right? And contributions from Big Pharma had nothing to do with Congress forbidding Medicare from negotiating prescription drug prices either. Right? Or am I missing something?

"[If he] was smart, he would’ve put his name on it  You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you."
Who said it? Where was it said? Who might we forget?
During a recent visit, Trump said that George Washington should have put his name on Mount Vernon. Otherwise, why would we remember him? I guess that Washington wasn't smart.


A scientist from Harvard says that it is likely that we are living in a computer simulation, that a sufficiently technologically advanced society could create such a simulation and that we could probably do so ourselves in 100 years or so.
      Scientists at Oxford say that they have proven, using quantum physics, that the reality that we experience could not be a simulation, that there is such a thing as a discernible, definable objective reality. Let the debate begin. Is there such a thing as objective reality or is all that we experience a shared construct? Is Schrodinger's Cat alive or dead? Is Schrodinger's Cat alive AND dead?
      A more important question might be: Will global warming effect the taste of my favorite wine or the price of my favorite wine? These are the sorts of problems that define my reality for me.

Mitch McConnell, who loves to call out Democrats for obstruction, has approved a re-election video touting his obstruction of Obama's pick of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court.

Theresa May is the PM. Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the opposition. Nigel Farage is running in the upcoming EU elections to represent the UK in an institution that he wants to leave. Boris Johnson could very well be the next PM, otherwise it might be Corbyn.

You can't make stuff like this up. That's why it belongs in Stupid Stuff.

IMMERSED IN VAN GOGH: PROJECTED ART IN A MINE IN LES BAUX-DE-PROVENCE

Yes, that's a four-story tall projection of Van Gogh's self portrait on a wall of an old limestone quarry. My photo doesn't do the reality justice. Reproductions of Van Gogh's paintings rise from the floor, glide through the mine's galleries, all to appropriate (mostly) music. It's immersive art. It's a high-end refinement of the French penchant for such projections, called lumières.

Some lumières are just plain silly, more like graffiti than art, like the concentric yellow circles that were projected on the walls of the old town of Carcassonne recently. But some, like the Carrières de Lumières in the abandoned underground limestone quarry in the gorge below the hilltop village of Les Baux-de-Provence, are simply awe inspiring. Previous shows have featured the work of such diverse artists as Chagall, Bosch, and Gauguin. There even appears to be an annual two-day event dedicated to Star Wars that's a fundraiser for the local Kiwanis Club - a service club similar to Rotary or Lions.

Fourteen members of our little walking club in Quarante made the pilgrimage recently. Tickets run about $15, are scaled by age group, and are for specific times, although after awaiting your turn to enter, you can stay and watch the one-hour show repeat if you'd like. Buying your ticket online lessens time spent at the entrance.

After an hour in the mine, we walked up to the village and had a leisurely lunch at a pleasant and welcoming crëperie, La Terasse des Beaux. We may have to schedule a second trip for those who missed it. Check out the website HERE.










HOBBYHORSING AROUND, THE GREATEST GENERATION, DRUNK DRIVING AND MORE: #23

  THE GREATEST GENERATION Friends were taking the ferry from the UK to  France and came across these gents headed for D Day ceremonies. They...