June 01, 2009
This afternoon, after a stroll of my temporary neighborhood, I sat down, ordered a coffee, and began reading "A Prayer for Owen Meany." I found it in a "give a book, take a book" coffee shop back home -- a far cry above the typical Reader's Digest classics those exchanges usually offer. So far, it's one of the funniest things I've read. Ever.
Half an hour after I finished my coffee, I realized I needed another. The only way to avoid a week of jetlag is to really push hard in the first 24 hours. And I can't afford to be sleepy. I'm here for work.
I ordered a second coffee, but the waiter said no.
"After six, it's happy hour. No coffee," he barked.
Too bad. I shrugged and figured that if he'd rather I sit there consuming nothing, versus consuming something, it was fine with me... even though it made me a little sad. No coffee because of some silly rule? And why was he such a jerk? How was I supposed to know his rules?
As I read, and tried to keep my eyes open, a pair of middle aged me sat at the table next to mine. Ordered two coffees. And got them.
I thought about it. A good twenty minutes, between people watching and reading. Thought good and hard. Part of me wanted to forget about it. They were locals, they probably knew the guy. They were regulars, or maybe they knew just how to ask the right way. I'd never be back. Who cared, really.
On the other hand, the waiter had been gruff, a living cliche. He simply figured he could tell the tourist "no" but act all buddy buddy with the locals. Assume I was too dumb to notice, or too helpless to do anything about it. What if I gave him a piece of my mind?
I composed a few lines in my head: "I'm curious why you declined to give me a coffee but served these gentlemen. Just to put things in perspective: I have been traveling for 24 hours, I'm exhausted and starved, and was thrilled to drink the first coffee. It was delicious. Would it have been that much trouble to make another, for which I would have paid, considering you did the same for those two men? Is it because I'm a tourist, or would you mind explaining why? I'm just wondering."
I asked him something like this, calmly, and in a much shorter version.
He looked shocked. Stung. Panicked.
"He's the owner!" he said. "He can have whatever he wants here. It's his place. Look, I don't make the rules. I'm really sorry. I'm sorry!"
"Ok, I understand. Thanks for letting me know. I was just a little surprised. No problem!"
I paid and left.
"Thanks, bye!" he called after me.
Later, I chatted with an acquaintance here who explained that until very recently, in boom times, this city was full of jerks. Salespeople, waiters, anyone with anonymous customers, pulled attitude, because they could. Refused to seat people. Rolled their eyes at the slightest request. Finally, they're remembering they need their customers as much as the customers need them. If not more.
Gained: A satisfactory answer. Better yet, stood up for myself in a foreign country. That's a first. Usually I just suck it up, try to be empathetic. Read: wimpy.
Here are a few pictures from the cafe across from mine. Hey, is that Mischa Barton, on the right, or does it just look like her? Consider these your next clues.