The Grumpy Garçon: A Family’s First Dining Experience in Paris

We just returned from our spring break trip to France, visiting Paris and Provence. I have so many things to write about, but one experience keeps coming to mind. It was our first full day in Paris, so we wanted to see many of the famous monuments.

We spent a leisurely morning walking along the Seine from our Left Bank hotel to the Eiffel Tower, photographing famous sights along the way. We were a bit overwhelmed by the crowds & lines in the plaza beneath the Tower, as it was Easter weekend, one of the busiest times of the year. We decided to cross the Seine and find a quieter spot for lunch on the way to the Arc de Triomphe.

Using our map as a guide, we headed up one of the quieter streets that led towards Place Charles de Gaulle. We saw a quiet café on the corner of Rue Monceau, were only a few tables were occupied. It looked like more of a local spot than a tourist hangout which was just what we wanted, and we took a seat outside to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. We appreciated the fact that this wasn’t going to be hectic & touristy, but also realized that we probably would not have the luxury of English translations on the menu, as we had seen in other restaurants. So we were a bit apprehensive at having to try out our limited French, especially when the sole waiter looked like the stereotype of the stern Frenchman who would have little patience for American tourists. And it was clear he did not speak much English (or at least wasn’t going to let us know that he did).


Fortunately, we knew enough French to recognize ham & cheese sandwiches & a few other items, including hot dogs which my fussy daughter figured was a safe choice. (We found throughout our trip that interpreting French menus wasn’t too difficult, once you learned to recognize common dishes and the words for ham, beef, chicken, raw, smoked, etc.)

We placed our order and reviewed the map and our plan for the day while we waited. Three of our dishes arrived quickly, roasted chicken with side salad, and two open face grilled sandwiches with cheese bubbling on top. (And they all tasted as good as they looked.) But there was no sign of Katie’s lunch. After setting the plates down, the waiter gave a us a quick nod as if to say “there you go” and then immediately turned and headed back inside. While Katie sat looking puzzled, the waiter stopped & pivoted to face her, shook his head, and made a gesture indicating she did not want her waist to get too large. Then he disappeared into the café. Before my daughter could get too flustered or upset, he reappeared with her plate of “frankfurters and frites, much to her relief.

After placing it with a flourish in front of her, he stepped back expectantly, as if waiting to see if we needed anything else. I noticed no condiments on the table, and realized I was going to have to figure out how to ask for ketchup (which, it turns out, is also “ketchup” in French). He just looked at us expressionless as we fumbled around a bit trying to explain what we needed & gestured pathetically, then with a sly grin pulled out the bottle he had hidden behind his back. We all had a good chuckle, including our “grumpy garçon.


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