Wait on Me

The Barnes and Noble at the Neshaminy Mall has become my Happy Place. My backup Happy Place is the Barnes and Noble at the Oxford Valley Mall. Upon entering this day, I instantly melt into a relaxed coma of joy fortified with themed end caps, discount display racks of former bestsellers, and alphabetically organized fiction.

After clearly breaching a $50 birthday book fund, I drop two books on my dad’s lap and ask him to choose. He is aware that I am taking advantage of the fact that the only person who loves book shopping more than me is him. The $50 budget miraculously is raised to $75. In thanks, I offer to buy us burgers at a nearby restaurant.

We are seated by the hostess and then peruse menus while waiting for our waitress. We’d been in this restaurant over the summer, where we were attended to by a James Franco double named Cody. Cody spoke to us in a low smooth almost whisper that was frighteningly appealing. He called us “gentlemen,” he squatted on his heels and gently placed his hands on the table while taking our orders, paying close attention to our needs, and offering exceptionally reassuring answers to our queries. Could I please get extra pickles? Well of course you can, sir. I will gladly take care of that for you today. I felt that Cody was more of our new age holistic aura therapist than our waiter.

The experience was not unpleasant, but I live in the Czech Republic, where waiters initially treat customers as one might a drunken cousin who wants to talk about their bad marriage at a family wedding. Many Czech waiters put the customer off in lieu of literally any other task. I have watched waiters clean tables and restock glasses, and then look around the room for other tasks before begrudgingly stepping over to my table. Once you’re there and settled and they get to know you, Czech waiters are efficient and pleasant, and often deliver new beers before you order another round. Czech waiters do not suffer fools and may the ghost of Jaroslav Hašek have mercy on those who wave or snap their fingers.

This is not to say that Czech waiters are not as good as American waiters, they are simply different, as different as waiters might be in Japan, Spain, and Iceland. This vast canyon of differences between American and Czech waiters can lead to occasional moments of culture shock. For example, by contrast, American waiters treat you with such familiarity that I often feel as though we are on a date with each other. I would not have been surprised if the guru Cody had held my hand and cooed the dessert list into my ear. Once, at a seafood restaurant in Ocean City, a waitress sat at our table asked us how we were doing before taking our order. I got light-headed. When she made a sex joke I was speechless. For once.

My dad and I chat about the tuxedos, primarily focusing on two subtopics. First is a philosophical, yet swear-laden discussion of how we have to pay $200 for a suit we’re going to possess for 20 hours and wear for seven. The second is that we have to tie our own bowtie. I am beholden to wear a tux since I am a groomsman. My dad can’t remember how exactly he ended up agreeing to this, and mentions that he might consider purchasing a hearing aid sometime soon.

It’s at this point that we realize that though there are three waiters tending to the tables on either side of us, we have yet to be visited. My attempts to make friendly eye contact fall short, which is just as well as I am always afraid of coming off as a deranged stalker when making eye contact in public. Finally, I go back to the hostess. I am nice, purposefully not upset, there’s nothing unpleasant about our interaction. I tell her we haven’t been visited yet. She apologizes several times while I consistently reassure her that there is no problem, I just wanted to let her know.

By the time I get to my table, our waitress is there and apologizing. Like, she won’t stop. We are all friendly, nobody is angry, but she appears to be a level of upset incongruous to her infraction. When she reaches into her apron, I am a little concerned that she’s going to remove a tantō and request permission to perform seppuku. She, in fact, has removed a list of the daily specials.

The manager arrives a moment later to offer us a $10 discount card because of the inconvenience of not being “greeted” in one minute. We try to refuse the card, maintaining that there was no inconvenience and we are not in any way put out, but he will hear nothing of it. I get light-headed. The waitress drops off our beers and takes our orders, she is friendly, jokes with us, sits down next to me to take our order. I would be speechless but the experience has warmed me up, so I am not as dumbfounded as in Ocean City. Still, I feel like the three of us are on a date. Maybe my dad can get Cody from his section and we can double.

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