A ”Crusty Conservative” War Story
or Vive French Arrogance
a War Story about how French Arrogance survives even thousands of miles from Paris
Like anybody who has traveled to Europe or even French Canada, I have numerous stories to tell about the incredible arrogance of the French. However, my favorite happened to me not in Paris or Quebec but in Washington, D.C.
A number of years ago, I was the dinner guest of a friend and business associate based in the nation’s capital. He elected to have dinner at a new “in” restaurant called “The French Steak House”. The eatery was housed in a storefront on busy “M” Street in the trendy Georgetown section of the city. The dining room that you entered directly from the street was small and modestly furnished with bent wood chairs around a dozen or more tables with glass protected white tablecloths. The menu was in a plastic placard and consisted of two steak choices, and one each of the obligatory fish and chicken dishes. Both steak selections were listed as being prepared with a Dijon mustard coating and sauce and served with pommes frites (french fries).
When the waiter approached the table and asked for our orders in a recently acquired, highly affected French accent, I ordered the New York steak – medium well. To which I added “could you please hold the mustard sauce”. His reply –
“but Monsieur the mustard preparation is the specialty of the house. That is the only way the chef will prepare it or we can serve it. There are many restaurants in this city that will serve you a plain steak. Why did you come here, if you did not wish to enjoy our presentation?”
Well, I had a few choice comments and an answer to his question that were on the tip of my tongue, but in deference to my host’ I instead bit my tongue and agreed to the place’s specialty.
When my steak arrived complete with mustard sauce, it was accompanied with a large order of beautiful french fried potatoes. I immediately but politely asked for ketchup “for my fries”. The waiter responded –
“But no Monsieur, the ketchup will interfere with the mustard sauce”. I responded that “I didn’t want the g… d…. mustard sauce to start with and now your telling me I can’t get ketchup because it will interfere with the mustard sauce that I didn’t want to start with and don’t plan to eat”.
Well I lost that war too. I ate, and must admit enjoyed, my steak with mustard sauce and fries without ketchup. I did, however learn that even pseudo Frenchmen can be arrogant as hell and that you don’t have to go abroad to be insulted by an arrogant Frenchman. Some things never change the French will be French wherever they are.
In the spirit of full disclosure and fair and balanced reporting, I must relate a story that is a counterbalance to the above.
In the early 1970s, Pat and I were in Paris with our three kids aged 9, 7, and 5. One afternoon, we were trying, unsuccessfully, to hail a cab on the Champs Elyse. Out of nowhere a taxi pulled up in front of us to discharge two passengers. One was a very , well-tailored, elegant French dowager. The other, equally well-tailored and elegant was either her son or grandson. Both by their mood and manner, they portrayed wealth and power. As the man was paying the driver through the window, we started to get into the cab. The driver interrupted the transaction with the departing passenger and informed us in broken English that he would not take 5 passengers despite the fact that two of them were small girls.
The disembarking passenger obviously heard the exchange because he reached out and took a banknote (which obviously was to be his tip) from the driver and returned it to his pocket. He then went on to give the cab driver a very severe tongue lashing. Although I didn’t understand a word of the gentleman’s French, I did understand the anger in his voice. When he finished, the cab driver sheepishly motioned for us to get in the taxi.
After hand shakes. bows, “merci”s and a very sincere thank you to our new benefactors, we were off to our hotel with five people in a Paris Taxi.
Lesson – despite all of the arrogance of the French, at least in the 1970s there were still gentlemen in Paris. I can only hope there still are 40 years or more later.
To that gentleman – a sincere thank you whoever you were.
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