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November 09, 2009

How to Get Your Way (Italian style)

"Let's stay in! I'll cook."

These were Mr. A's words to me on Thursday night as we mulled over dinner plans.

"Are you sure you want to cook? You're not exhausted after work?" I answered.

"No, I'd love to make something."

That sounded wonderful in theory. In practice, I had one concern.

"You're prepared to clean up? Because I already did dishes for an hour today and I'm not doing them again."

"How about we go out!"

"Great idea!"

Thus we found ourselves in line at Arrividerci, a delectable ristorante in Hillcrest, the once-hipster part of town now known for its good food.

The hostess told us it would be 20 to 25 minutes for a table. Perfect -- we weren't starving yet, and there was a used book store a block away we'd been wanting to check out.

After spending 20 minutes browsing -- and $30 on four books (I didn't ask for a discount -- recently I've been feeling so sad about the state of the book industry that I've stopped trying to get breaks there) -- we trotted back to the restaurant, nudged our way through the line and approached the counter. I scanned the waiting list and saw that every name before ours was crossed off, save for one couple. Just in time.

"We're back. Mr. A.," I told the hostess, pointing to his name on her list. "How long do you expect?"

"20 to 25 minutes."

And that's when it happened. I felt the wrath of 1,000 eye-lined bleached-and-teased divas swelling within me. And I ceded to their indomitable power.

I eyed the hostess up and down (both for effect and to make absolutely sure she was Italian), and then I let her have it.

"Excuse me, but are you joking?" [Scuza, ma ci stai prendendo in giro?]

"Because THAT is ridiculous. 25 minutes ago, you told us 25 minutes. Now it's 25 minutes again?"

"I have several reservations in front of you!"

"You knew that half an hour ago. So clearly you can't be serious. If you had told me 50 minutes the first time I asked, I would have gone somewhere else. Instead you lie to me, and to everyone waiting outside, and make your restaurant look like the best one on the block. This may be an Italian restaurant, but not even in Italy have I been treated in such a way."

"But other people have reservations now!" she gasped. (Poor woman! More how it really felt to be berating her, below...)

"I get you're busy. What I do not accept are your lies. What do you expect me to do now. Wait another half an hour? So you can lie to me again?"

People were staring. A manager rushed over. "What's going on!?" he interjected.

"They want a table. They're on the list, but I told them it's impossible, the reservations" she stammered.

"How many of you?"

"Two," I answered.

"The next table is yours. I'm terribly sorry."

"Thank you very much."

We were seated on the patio.

Mr. A was studying me with a mixture of terror and something bordering on lust. And I was going over the scene in my head. I had just mouthed off at a harried hostess. I had raised my voice, which is something I never do. I had intimidated someone into giving me my way and probably gotten a stressed employee in trouble. On the other hand, it's not that I snapped. I stood up for myself, Italian-style -- something I would never have done a few years ago, or even at the start of this Daily Asker experiment.

In Italy, as I've learned from La Divina and her friends, customer service is non-existent. There's no Twitter to whine on, there's no "consumer experience representative" to contact. There's just the crowd. Who can hear you. And who's probably just as frustrated as you are.

So they makes scenes. Highly choreographed, highly effective scenes. Always the women. Always starting with the line "Are you joking?" and always ending with a sweet apology after the results are obtained. That's exactly what La Divina did when the furniture store repeatedly failed to deliver a lamp she ordered, and when her clients made comments that she must be the secretary because she's too hot to be a decision maker. (I think it's part of the same curriculum as "how to get out of any parking ticket with pout number 27," "never call a guy on the phone or arrive on time for a date before you f*ck him" and "burn dinner every so often." Conniving or common sense? Feel free to debate, below.)

So at the end of the dinner, I approached the hostess with a smile. Before I opened my mouth she apologized. In English this time.

"I'm really sorry. It was very rude to keep you waiting."

"No, I'm the one who should apologize. That was not nice of me to get agitated like that. I was simply surprised, because I know what a great restaurant this is, and how well people are normally treated here."

"Yes, I'm really sorry. In Italy, where I've been a waitress for six years, I've never seen such scheduling difficulties. This is a bigger dining room than what I'm used to, so it can be difficult."

"You're right. You have a very stressful job, and I made it harder tonight. I'm sorry."

"That's okay. I'm glad you finally got a table."

We left a really nice tip. An American touch!
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