Sunday, August 13, 2000

La Vie en Rose

Lady, when we decaffeinate something in Australia, we don’t f**k around. Russell Crowe to an American tourist, when he was a young struggling waiter, responding to her complaint when he brought her a cup of hot water after she had ordered decaf coffee

As Jerry Seinfeld would say, "I just don't get it. What's with these continental waiters?"

Like taxi drivers, waiters in Italian or French restaurants, seem to be of the same ilk, no matter what country you are in. They seem to think arrogance is an asset, and that insulting customers is de rigeur for any restaurant worth its name in snails or fettucine. And this is true whether you are unfortunate enough to have to deal with them either in Manhattan or in Carlton, in Melbourne Australia.

A week or so ago I was dining with friends at a medium-level French restaurant in Carlton. Well-reviewed in Melbourne's equivalent of Zagarts - "The Age Good Food Guide" - the restaurant boasts an established and cultured clientele. In the old days it was run by an amiable ex-Parisian called, surprise surprise, Jean Pierre. He'd play Jean Trenet's "La Mer" over and over again, the volume increasing as the night wore slowly and enjoyably on. He'd supply favored guests with an abundance of good cointreau and explain that, though from Paris, he was a normal and friendly human being.

Those were the good old days. Jean Pierre has long since gone, and now the restaurant it is run by sullen folk, who take great delight in insulting the patrons if they dare to answer back after sarcastic comments, screech at the top of their voices, "Touché Madame, touché!"

Quelle place!

Surely these people went to the same courtesy school as the waiters in another French restaurant, this one in Manhattan, where after spilling water all over the just-served duck à l'orange, and making us wait 15 minutes for the chef to wipe it dry and re-microwave it, informed us that our allotted 90 minutes sitting-down-and-enjoying-life time was almost up.

C'est la vie, I suppose. They should serve rose-colored glasses with the appetizers. This would help to make the evening enjoyable. The waiters certainly do not.

August 18 2000

Your Questions and Comments

Christina, an Australian living in Helsinki , emailed:
Hi there,
Firstly, can I say that I love reading your column. It always makes me
want to visit New York!

But I do have one question about the 60 hr working weeks, better pay and
no time off. What is the point of earning so much more if you never have
time to spend it? You make it sound like "leisure time" is a dirty word.
Thanks to having RDOs, I've never taken a "sickie" unless I've actually
been sick. And workers are only entitled to 5 sick days if they are
actually sick - not all Aussies use their sick leave days as "leisure

While I enjoy my work, there is more to my life than only work and
money. Family and friends and the apparently heinous crime of spending
some time relaxing are also important (although I live in Helsinki now
so I don't get to see so much of my family anymore).

Regarding sexism in the workplace, I've been fortunate enough never to
encounter it in Australia (although I know that this is not the case for
everyone). Here it is a different matter however. I have actually been
asked by an interviewer about my marital status, whether my name is my
husbands (I replied that no, it was MY name), and whether I have or
intend to have children. He then proceeded to ask if I could do "a bit
of bookkeeping" and I finally spat the dummy and asked if he had even
read my CV (I have a degree in Business with a major in Accounting).

Needless to say I didn't get the job.

I'm not sure WHAT the point of earning the money, is, Christine. I look at it as acclimating to the host culture. Everyone else does, so why not me? But seriously though, I do think that somewhere in between is probably best. There's something to be said about being productive, and something to be said about having fun. Maybe it could be balanced a little bit more in both societies.

Pamm, an Australian living in America emailed:>

As always, your Letter From New York is not only immensely enjoyable but
"spot on". I left Oz due to the sexism and ageism in the corporate world
and have never had it better (professionally) than here in the USA.
Although there are many things I miss about Oz (and many things I would
miss about USA if I left) it is NOT the place to work for a living - can
you tell I am an educated female over 30?. My American husband and I may
consider retiring there but will never go back to work there.

I agree totally, Pamm. America is certainly NOT the place to retire in if you have the option of returning to Australia. On the other hand, who would WANT to work in Australia, if they are over 40 (male OR female), professional and salaried? And we can always make up for the things we have missed when we are old and gray.

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