Cafe au lait and have a nice day
A CAFE on the French Riviera has garnered oodles of publicity for its policy of charging grumpy patrons more for coffees than those who display good manners.
I love this idea, introduced by Fabrice Pepino, the owner of La Petite Syrah in Nice, who’d had his fill of rude and charmless grouches. So he rewrote his blackboard prices as j7 ($10.50) for a coffee for customers who do not say please; if they do; and a bargain if they wish the busy barista bonjour as well as a hearty s’il vous plait.
Coffee drinkers may be a peculiarly testy species but travellers in general can be very ill-mannered, snapping their fingers for attention, showing off in clownish ways and failing to observe cultural sensitivities.
It takes very little time to learn how to say (at the least) please and thank you in the languages of the countries to which you are travelling.
Lonely Planet’s phrasebooks, each with their ‘‘2000-word two-way dictionary’’, are rather good in this regard, with clear instructions on pronunciation and handy pop-into-pocket size.
I have quite a collection of these, some of which I haven’t had occasion to use (I am dying to twist my tongue around Croatian and Swahili), plus a tiny spinoff, Fast Talk Italian, the title of which amuses me no end, given the gesturing energy of Italians and the fact that all the chaps from Venice to Verona and beyond seem rather fast-talking and would scarcely say please or thank you when pinching a signora’s bottom.
Digressing back to coffee, I am feeling very politely disposed towards those hotels that are now equipping guestrooms with espresso machines and providing real milk instead of those dire little squirter devices that get you in the eye or, horrors, sachets of that beastly old powdered stuff.
But technology being such a contrary thing, some of these machines should come with licensed operators, such are their complicated workings.
Recently, at a newly refurbished airport lounge, I encountered a looming DIY espresso machine with so many dials and spouts that the manager had had to put a staff member on permanent standby to make coffee on request for baffled passengers; every other day, he confided to me, it was out of order.
Similarly, in a hotel room in Asia last month, the in-room espresso machine and I could not make friends, no matter how hard I tried.
It was as big as a delivery van and planets removed from the jaunty little Nespresso gadget that sits so obediently on my kitchen bench.
This one seemed more like a robot, with flashing lights and levered arms and special plungers and frothing devices.
No matter that I yelled Ching . . . Lao-jya! (Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook, page 107, ‘‘Social and Meeting People’’) over and over in what I hoped sounded like a sociable fashion. It was having no truck with the idea of getting to know foreigners like me.