French waiters aren't known for being particularly pleasant. It's so bad in some places that the Paris chamber of commerce and regional tourism committee issued a manual this summer to 30,000 workers in the tourism industry advising on the value of a few niceties.
But one establishment on the French Riviera says it's quite the contrary – that it's the customers who skimp on the “hello” and "please" – and they've started effectively fining the bad behavior.
Look at this picture here. It's in French, but you can see that on a chalkboard where coffee prices are listed. If you say "please," your coffee will be nearly half the price. And if you add the all-important "hello" and "please," it's over four times cheaper. But just demand a coffee, and it's a whopping 7 euros ($9.60).
The manager of the Petite Syrah, Fabrice Pepino, told the English-language publication The Local: "It started as a joke because at lunchtime people would come in very stressed and were sometimes rude to us when they ordered a coffee. ... It's our way of saying 'keep calm and carry on' … I know people say that French service can be rude but it's also true that customers can be rude when they’re busy.”
It's drawn a lot of attention, and a lot of “likes” on Facebook, because despite the grumpy service one expects in bars and cafes, the French do hold dear their etiquette that insists one must first say “hello” before any inquiry.
If you say “Excuse me, where is the bus stop?” without a greeting first, you will often get a very pointed “Hello” in response – just to remind you of how rude you've been. A very pleasant “Excuse me, but do you know...” doesn't cut it. “Hello” must be the first word – even if what follows afterwards isn't particularly very nice.
Waiters probably do say “hello” when they come to take your order, but you may miss that pleasantry when their lack of eye contact or frustration with a customer's question is so immediately apparent.
At least one reader took the Petite Syrah to task for that on the site of Nice Matin newspaper, where the story first ran: “So according to this principle one can pay less if one is poorly attended to?”
It sounds like a fantastic idea to me. It would do wonders for social interaction – and if not, at least I'd save a lot of money.