Cafe au lait and have a nice day

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

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.

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