I see hundreds of people everyday walking around Old Town Antibes. I leave my apartment in the morning and except for one or two quick stops back in, I’m out all day. And it’s hot. I notice my natural ingredients Tom’s deodorant (which I’ve been using since Tony Robbins told us in the seminar that the aluminum present in most others is associated with Alzheimer’s) does not seem to be working very well. I carry a water bottle with me, just like I usually do in the states when it’s hot. Actually, there I keep one in my car all the time.
It’s super easy here because the tap water is wonderful! I don’t know where it’s coming from, maybe straight from Evian, but it’s better than any bottled water I’ve had. So I have a couple empty bottles and I fill one with tap water in the morning and carry one with me during the hot day. Now… I’ve noticed that NO ONE else has a water bottle. NOT A SINGLE PERSON! Pour quoi? When I eat in a little café sometimes I don’t ask for de l’eau (some water) because even though it’s free, it’s a big production. It comes in a big colored glass bottle along with a glass with ice. Always the same thing. So rather than bother the garcon (waiter) for a carafe of water which leads to a big discussion of glass bottle, with or without gas, I just pull out my plastic bottle, knowing they appreciate my being less of a bother. I have plenty of things to bother them with… more sucre (sugar), can I have some salt, please, je voudrais de beurre (I would like some butter). And God knows what else I can think of needing while I’m eating my little meal.
One day, I even smiled and laughed, showing the waiter how I find the need to pour extra water- from my bottle- into my café American, because even the American-style café is too strong for my taste buds. I noticed that day in particular he had a very strained look on his face. Who knows?
I was sitting in Le Crème Brulee, one of my new favorite free Wi-Fi hangouts, eating my sucre avec beurre (sugar with butter) crepe and sipping my coffee syrup or whatever they call that coffee when I noticed the owner saying something to my waiter while two other female servers listened with a look of disgust. And they seemed to be glancing my way. I was dressed nicely, and the place wasn’t busy. I thought that in France there was an unwritten rule that you could sit at your table as long as you liked, it wasn’t even polite for the garcon to bring your bill until you requested it. There were empty tables all around me. Were they just tired of my being there? They certainly weren’t acting very French-like if they were going to hurry me along. And they’re the ones with the free Wi-Fi, so of course they should expect some people to lounge a little longer than normal.
I saw the garcon- very handsome and proper I might add- walking towards me. What was he going to say??? What instruction had the restaurant owner just given him… because I could tell by his walk and his head slightly lowered that he didn’t want to be the one to deliver the message. And his crew was watching him sideways, trying to act like they weren’t.
“Excuse me, Madame”, he said softly… “Would you please remove your water bottle from the table?” And I glimpsed the other two female servers quietly snickering.
What??? What in the world was the problem with my water bottle??? “Oh, certainly” I said, and couldn’t get it in my purse fast enough. “Je suis desolate” I am sorry. Sorry for fucking what!!! When did it become so RUDE to have a water bottle on a table in a casual café?
After that, I finished what I was doing on the internet, left an extra large tip and left. I felt so flustered and stunned.
Later that evening I was sitting in the tiny “The Happy Face”, the only place besides the Lebanese restaurant that has internet Wi-Fi available in the evening. By the way, I have now mentioned in my blog the four places in all of Old Antibes that has Wi-Fi. If you plan on coming here, make a note because they have been extremely difficult to find. I bought a drink so I could ask for their confirmation key number to log on. As I was sitting with my computer on the bar, feeling very uneasy and nervous about making another etiquette custom mistake, I asked the girl near me if it was considered rude to be using your computer at a bar or café. “Oh, Non!” C’est d’accord!” Oh, no, it’s ok!, she said happily. And how about at a café, while eating a crepe? I thought I would make her answer a second time to make sure we understood each other. No, no, no. Absolutely no problem. Hmmm… ok….. so….. how about having a water bottle on your table? Is that ok? She looked as if someone had struck her! No, no! She shook her head and wagged her finger with a horrified look in her eyes. “Non, non” she said. Wonder why. “It’s impolite?” I asked. “No bottle water. Non, non.” she said concerned, as if she was hoping for my sake I hadn’t committed that terrible faux pas.
So, there you have it. Now I keep my water bottle hidden in my purse and turn when I drink it, as if I’m blowing my nose or something. I don’t know what it is about the bottle of water, but I won’t make that mistake again!
And, as a footnote, when I was in the cell phone store buying my phone with my bottle deep in my purse, two French women were chattering away. One laughed and I heard her say to her friend, “Look, I’m thirsty all the time just like an American” and she took her water bottle from her purse and took a drink. I don’t get it. What’s it all about?
I have good news about Le Crème Brulee. Like falling off a horse, the best thing to do is get right back on… the next morning, guess where I chose to have my crepe? Yep! Le Crème Brulee! And I followed all the rules. Well, most of the rules. I asked the girl (a new one that hadn’t waited on me yet) for a crepe avec sucre and du beurre. Imagine that. And she was real confused about the du beurre. Apparently I was saying it like du ‘bear’ and it’s supposed to be du ‘ber’. But we finally got that settled… or so I thought. When the crepe came it seemed a little dry. I took a bite and tasted no du beurre. No du beurre to be found. She finally came back into view and I motioned her over and tried my best to explain in francais that my crepe didn’t have the du BER that I SPECIFICALLY asked for. Actually, I was very polite. She left and returned with two cold pats of butter wrapped in gold foil and tossed them on my plate and quickly turned and left. Oh no, that will never do. I actually thought about spreading the cold butter on my crepe but at $7.00 US a pop, I pretty much want the crepe to be parfait (translated as perfect)! When she walked back into sight I motioned her over. Lots of commotion- my trying to tell her I wanted warm melted butter and her looking very confused. She called over one of the other servers (one of the smirkers) and they chattered a flury! Then she started to remove my plate. I had only taken one bite, and I didn’t need for the kitchen to make an entirely new crepe. I’m not a jerk, I just wanted melted butter on my crepe! The smirker girl came over and said something to me in French which I didn’t understand, but it obviously confirmed what the first girl had said because the second girl whisked my plate away! Go figure. So I busied myself on my computer thinking I had awhile before the new crepe arrived and then voila! My original crepe with the bite taken out returned with a cute little bowl of melted butter beside it. “Perfect!” I said with a big smile. And they smiled too. I guess The Crème Brulee has a stern rule about bringing melted butter out by itself. Who knows?
My crepe was delicious and I left another sizeable tip in hopes that they won’t only not cringe when they see me walking their way, but that they’ll actually hope I come in. Before I left, in the 90 minutes that I sat there using the internet after finishing my crepe, the smirker girl came towards me and said something about me, and my using the internet and motioned outside. I said, “Not a problem, I’m ready to leave”, thinking she was telling me my time was up. She profusely made it clear that that was not what she was trying to convey, but that a woman seated in outside seating needed help connecting, and that perhaps I (since I’ve apparently spent more time in their restaurant on-line than all other people combined) might be able to help her. So I got up and went over to the lady’s table and helped her get on-line.
Now when I walk by The Crème Brulee they smile and say bonjour. And I smile and happily say “Bonjour” in the french sweet sing-song voice! After all, they’re my internet connection. And their crepes are really good!
And another happy note… look how beautiful the Mediterranean is today. I walked around the corner of my narrow street and the view opened to the sea and the cobalt and turquoise jewel tones of the sea set against the bright blue sky took my breath away. I hope even a tiny bit of the warm, vibrant energy comes through in the picture. In person, it makes me breathe faster and I feel a soothing wave move through my body.