Last year after a couple of days in – by trip advisor’s standards – a top little Parisian hotel, we tried to pay the bill. We figured the proprietor was in a mood, you could hear it way off, but we still didn’t realise exactly what would be in store.
First, before we could even ask what we wanted, he began a rant about tripadvisor – some idiot had said something stupid about his hotel, his business would be ruined, so on and so forth. In fact the idiot had said something stupid – complaining about the rooms being small, when it is impossible to book a room at this hotel without being warned of this. In fact the rooms were bigger than I’d expected, given the warning we received before we clicked on the button to book. I felt for the guy because I imagine it’s true that the internet has probably ruined many a good business through criticisms made public by morons. Some of the reviews are true and impartial and written by people who care and are thoughtful. But lots of them aren’t. And then there is the fact that there are copywriters who earn their living by reviewing things on such sites, pretending to be ‘real people’. So, sympathise I did.
This was nothing, however, compared with what was to come. When he printed out our bill, it was in the wrong name. As it was being submitted as an expense to be claimed, this was not going to work. Meekly we pointed out that we needed the bill in the right name, at which point he cracked a fruity that makes Basil Fawlty in full windup look like a stuffed teddybear on valium.
I only wish I could produce it all here, but the essence of it was ‘Right, that’s it. I am not charging you. Today everybody is charged nothing and tonight I close the hotel, I sack my staff [his nearby assistant looked like he’d heard this before] I tell my children we cannot afford to live any more.’ There was nothing we could do, we tried to insist on paying, but we could only pay if he gave us an appropriate bill/receipt. Eventually somebody else came to the desk and we slunk away.
I have to say, I have never heard or seen anything like it before. But when I was recounting the tale to Sarah-Louise, who has spent some time in France, she just laughed and said I was lucky to have had the experience of a French man in full drama queen mode. That’s just how French men are, in her knowledgeable opinion.
Knowledgeable as she may be, I nonetheless have secretly harboured doubts about the ‘French Man’. Surely this can’t be ‘normal’, the performance to which we were treated. But then I read the following story in the fabulous The Vegetarian Option by Simon Hopkinson. A friend of his was host in France to a school mate of her son’s. She fed the little tykes a lunch that included beans.
…the boy was clearly troubled by something….she asked of the poor boy as to what his dilemma might be, by which time he was convulsed by full-blown blubbing.
Well, it transpired that he had grave concerns over the fact that although Sarah’s haricot verts tres fins had been ‘topped’, they had not, at all, been ‘tailed’. There followed a clear qualification for his distress, that his Mother would never have countenanced such a lamentable faux pas. Quite simply, the boy was not going to eat them. Sarah then asked him what he would like to do. He said, most emphatically, that he would be going home, now. So, home he went.
Much as Simon was on the boy’s side in principle and so am I, nonetheless, the consequence did not seem to stack up to the crime. They learn early, then, to do the drama queen thing in France. Hilarious!