The Angel and the Author
[Patience and the Waiter.]
The slowest waiter I know is the British railway refreshment-room waiter.
His very breathing--regular, harmonious, penetrating, instinct as it is with all the better
attributes of a well-preserved grandfather's clock--conveys suggestion of dignity and
peace. He is a huge, impressive person. There emanates from him an atmosphere of
Lotusland. The otherwise unattractive refreshment-room becomes an oasis of repose
amid the turmoil of a fretful world. All things conspire to aid him: the ancient joints,
ranged side by side like corpses in a morgue, each one decently hidden under its white
muslin shroud, whispering of death and decay; the dish of dead flies, thoughtfully placed
in the centre of the table; the framed advertisements extolling the virtues of heavy beers
and stouts, of weird champagnes, emanating from haunted-looking chateaux, situate-- if
one may judge from the illustration--in the midst of desert lands; the sleep-inviting buzz
of the bluebottles.
The spirit of the place steals over you. On entering, with a quarter of an hour to spare,
your idea was a cutlet and a glass of claret. In the face of the refreshment-room waiter,
the notion appears frivolous, not to say un-English. You order cold beef and pickles, with
a pint of bitter in a tankard. To win the British waiter's approval, you must always order
beer in a tankard. The British waiter, in his ideals, is mediaeval. There is a Shakespearean
touch about a tankard. A soapy potato will, of course, be added. Afterwards a ton of
cheese and a basin of rabbit's food floating in water (the British salad) will be placed
before you. You will work steadily through the whole, anticipating the somnolence that
will subsequently fall upon you with a certain amount of satisfaction. It will serve to
dispel the last lingering regret at the reflection that you will miss your appointment, and
suffer thereby serious inconvenience if not positive loss. These things are of the world--
the noisy, tiresome world you have left without.
To the English traveller, the foreign waiter in the earlier stages of his career is a burden
and a trial. When he is complete--when he really can talk English I rejoice in him. When
I object to him is when his English is worse than my French or German, and when he
will, for his own educational purposes, insist, nevertheless, that the conversation shall be
entirely in English. I would he came to me some other time. I would so much rather make
it after dinner or, say, the next morning. I hate giving lessons during meal times.
Besides, to a man with feeble digestion, this sort of thing can lead to trouble. One waiter I
met at an hotel in Dijon knew very little English--about as much as a poll parrot. The
moment I entered the salle-a-manger he started to his feet.
"Ah! You English!" he cried.