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  • Writer's pictureMoriah

Hardly Polite

On our first evening in Plettenberg Bay, T suggested going to a restaurant. I wish he would've told me that he had an upscale restaurant in mind, as I was wearing tracksuit pants and a parka coat. Regardless, the apartment we found was dirt cheap, and we had an empty fridge, so we thought one last night of playing a loaded couple wouldn't hurt a soul.

The waiter was a very hospitable young guy; one of those people whose attitude to service runs in the blood and gives them contentment. He opened the bottle of wine and asked who would be tasting it.

It surprised me.

A decade ago, I was a waitress at a 5-star hotel. We were given exhausting courses on table service, most of which was about serving wine. The instructions were cast iron: you must show the label to the man, he confirms, you open the bottle and pour it for the man. The man has to sniff, taste, confirm again, and then you pour into the lady's glass. No one asked who was going to taste it, everyone assumed it was the man's assignment.

T immediately said I would taste, and the waiter poured the wine into my glass. It was a new experience for me. I know good wine, and I accepted the role quite earnestly, but I felt like a substitute for a play I've watched hundreds of times before. I put on a knowledgable face, gave the wine a few seconds to breathe and began my role: I swirled it around the glass, sniffed, tasted. I didn't gargle even though they do it in the films, because it's a horrid sight. I swallowed like a normal person, confirmed with a nod and he poured some into T's glass.

I felt pretty proud of my performance that for a moment I forgot I was wearing a parka coat and beanie.

This ritual is surely amusing, but not necessary, not really. After all, the waiter presumably wasn't concentrating on my performance, he was busy with his own script. His is more complicated. He was busy opening the bottle, holding it with his thumb from the bottom, standing to the left of the customer while he poured, trying not to spill or let wine dribble down the side of the bottle. Meanwhile, he pretended to be focused on us, with a smile on his face and an upright back. Everyone was busy playing their part, and no one knew who the choreographer of this glorious tango was.

I always thought of etiquettes as a big sparkly show. I do understand some of it though. I get the point of being polite and well mannered when it's for the sake of others' well being; the importance of arriving on time and not wasting other people's time, listening and speaking calmly without interrupting. All of these falls under the category of consideration, and anyone who's not a psychopath understands them. Beyond that, you lost me.

Words, for example. Words are a way of communicating - my favourite use of them is telling stories - but the modern man uses them as template ingredients. A little bit of thank you, some excuse me's and a dash of sorry. Bon-appetit, enjoy your frigid casserole.

I'm originally Tunisian. The Tunisian language (if you can call it that, it's more of a dialect than a language), doesn't have "magic words", they don't exist. If you want to say thank you, you give the person a blessing. You wish him health and happiness, a long life or a good relationship. If you're asking for something, you're just asking for it. No pleases, no thank-yous, no other emotional bridles.

Most people don't understand the meaning or reasoning behind all these ceremonial "norms", and yet, everyone follows the guidelines as if they were received from the Ministry of Health in times of COVID.

When we finished eating, the waiter asked if he could take our plates. T said no thanks, he hadn't finished. I said yes and handed him my plate.

After the waiter left, I thought about it as it began to dawn on him. I shared it with T, "Do you think that was rude?"

T, in his awesomeness, didn't even understand what I was talking about.

"You said you hadn't finished, and yet I asked him to take my plate," I explained.

We discussed this for a few minutes, about when and why it would be considered rude.

In the end, we decided yes. As T likes to put it: it was healthy Israeli rudeness. Duly noted.

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Sep 21, 2020

I loved your description about being a waiter and love your play on words and sense of humour! Its so interesting about originally be Tunisian - sounds exotic and fascinating - no please and thank you's! Love the "healthy Israeli rudeness" - very funny! Your writing is...............fabulous!!

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