A little knowledge goes a long way. And can gain you instant respect from waiters and locals in Europe. Take for example a simple item like water. Here in the USA we drink tap water regularly and now a lot of us are into bottled water (one of my pet peeves for people driving – please stop). The concept of bottled water actually started in Europe out of necessity since tap water in a lot of places was, frankly, awful and sometimes unhealthy. Each locality had it’s own brand or favorite. And now it’s commonly a source of pride and in most upper scale restaurants a measuring stick for diners. If you want instant respect you gotta know the right water to order!
One of our other stories mentions gourmet dining in France, where we struggle with the language. It seems if you really know your water you can “impress” the server enough to treat you much better. Almost like a local. In the Burgundy region of France my wife and I booked a table at one of the best Relais properties known by many French foodies. These places are not really snobby, but they do have a certain air about them. The food is great and the service is traditional French…a bit put offish but respectful. But the respect part takes some earning. Even with limited language skills one can attempt to communicate in their language, if nothing else to gain that respect. Perks usually follow.
Continuing the tale of dinner and the right water, as our French waiter approaches we greet him in French. Even if with nasty American accents. But the next step is crucial. Dinner in France is about not only food, but water and wine (of course). If, like our waiter, you get asked to have water, you need to be ready to respond with the water of choice for the particular region. Knowing we are Americans, we get asked “would you prefer water, Perrier”? Responding with “no, please, Badoit” moves you up the respect scale. Yes, you know the correct water of choice. And even if you don’t know the difference or can taste the difference, you can now take command. Next comes the right wine (local, of course).
In our case the choice of water and poor attempts at language use, established some surprising perks. For our pleasure, we decided to go whole hog and do the Gourmet Extravaganza…a 3 hour, multiple course adventure. And of course with limited language skills, some of the course choices were a bit of a guess. My wife picked one of three entrees, while I hesitated. None of the three really appealed to me, but I relented and made a selection. The waiter disappeared off to the kitchen, only to return a short time later. In his best English he offered me an alternative, more to my liking. I agreed. As he went off again, we marveled at the possibility that maybe the water choice gained enough respect for me to be treated like a local Frenchman. Ooh, La, La.
After dinner came the clincher. Apparently we made enough of an impression with our attempts at French and picking out the right water and wine, that the chef came out to thank us for dining at his establishment. Funny thing is he only stopped at our table and not at several others with clearly “foreign” diners that never made the effort.
So know your water. Speak a little local language. Show respect. And reap the benefits.