How hard can it be?

I’m loving this… sitting in Le Pain Quotidien having lunch, and a couple have just rocked up at the table beside me. They sound like they’re from across the pond – I’ve no idea where, could be Canada, could be America, who knows – but they’re causing me much entertainment in making their selection of food and drink such a rigmarole.

Let’s go back to their arrival­­­­­­. No, their attire. He is wearing a Gore-Tex North Face coat, still, (they’ve been here for a good 20 minutes so far; I removed my coat on arrival, and my jumper, and I’m still hot). She has made herself a little more comfortable in the bench seat against the wall and appears to be wearing the trousers. Having spent a good ten minutes deciding whether their table is acceptable, (it’s busy here today, and given the queue forming by the door, I’d say they had little or no choice of table, so if it’s not good enough, this could be a very quick lunch) they finally turn their attention to the menu.

Meanwhile Paolo, the waiter who is covering our patch today, has already made at least two speculative moves past them, clocking the menus sitting untouched on the table as they discuss their location. He glances at me and smiles, I can’t help but giggle. And unable to control my excitement any longer, Vesper quickly emerges from my bag and I power up my blog…


At the prospect of food, North Face is now busy taking in the menu, both the cardboard in his hand and the chalk on the blackboard. He’s saying nothing, giving nothing away; I’m intrigued as to what he’s thinking…

Meanwhile South Face is scrutinising, no, criticizing everything on the menu. She finally decides that they will have a salad, and divide it, then they can have a cake, and divide it, afterwards… North Face is saying nothing. South Face tells him again …so they can divide it. (Is that the number of times she’s told him, or the food itself, or perhaps their opinion? Who knows, he’s keeping his Gore-Tex very close to his chest.)

Suddenly, he pipes-up suggesting that the wine looks… and is immediately shadowed by the South Face, who proclaims that they’re not doing wine during the daytime, no way. The North Face returns to his menu, perhaps he’s only perused the beverage section so far?  South Face is still making more divisions than Carole Vorderman, and the decision is made. Right? Right. What? Her companion throws her a curve ball; I fancy soup. What’s the soup? Whoooo hold it right there, how can he want soup when they don’t know what it is? They’ll have to ask the waiter. They could ask the waiter. They don’t know what the soup is.

You’re welcome

Now being frightfully British, in this scenario, is it not customary to help out? I’m sitting no more than two feet from them, the gap between our tables is less than six inches, so it’s not as though I’m eavesdropping (however entertaining they are!) I look up from my trying and casually share that today’s soup is sweet potato and chorizo, the waiter told me as I sat down earlier. The reaction? Nothing. North Face continues to read the menu, South Face just repeats my words and asks North Face if that’s what he’d like. Far from being disappointed not to have a response, or the faintest sign of social skills, or desire to engage with the locals (as I try to whenever I’m traveling), I find the lack of reaction just makes them funnier! I return to my typing, cracking up inside, the edges of my mouth turning up as I contain my amusement at my transatlantic neighbours.

Within a few minutes, they decide to get two soups, a salad to share and, if they are still hungry, they can then have a cake afterwards, and divide it. Right, now. Where’s the waiter? The service is this place is really bad…

No sausage please

Paolo, by this point, has pretty much given up on this table. So when he comes over to bring me my top-up of English Breakfast, I nod in their direction and out comes his notepad. As South Face conveys their order, she asks again, just to make sure, about the soup (she can’t be asking them to divide it, surely?) When Paolo explains that the soup today is sweet potato and chorizo, she suggests that sounds ok, but what is chorizo?

AN: you know when you something makes you laugh whilst you’re eating or drinking, and you cough on your food / drink, then over exaggerate it to try and hide the fact that it was caused by what you saw / heard? How can a dish with two ingredients sound ok if you don’t know what the second ingredient is?…!

Paolo explains that chorizo is a kind of Spanish sausage, a bit spicy, very nice. Oh no, it can’t have sausage, why would you want sausage in soup? Oh no, that won’t work. So they just have the salad. And divide it. Then they can have a cake afterwards, if they’re not full. Paolo pauses, and explains that the salad is quite small, that’s why it’s listed in the Sides section of the menu. North Face is, by this point, losing the will (I suspect Paolo is not far behind), and he throws in a random suggestion of a salad platter. South Face concedes but wants some water. No not tap water, bottled water, still, not sparkling. Paolo writes nothing down, but relieves the climbers of their menus and hurries away before they can change their minds.

The bottle doesn’t work

Since placing their order, they’ve said nothing, just sat in silence; the North Face examining the pattern on the wall behind the South Face, as she peruses the room with mild critique. Eventually, my neighbours’ food arrives and, once again, their lack of reaction to their food makes me smile – no that looks nice / I hadn’t realised how hungry I am / hhmmm not what I expected. Just silence until South Face realises that her bottle doesn’t work. Looking across at her, the North Face expression suggests he suspects it’s actually South Face, rather than the bottle, which needs attention. He takes the bottle from her, but is equally unable to make it work. South Face is rolling her eyes – I can’t see her, but just know she is! They beckon Paolo back to the table and hand him the bottle – it doesn’t work, this bottle is broken.

AN: remember the scene in Pretty Woman, where Edward takes Vivienne to the opera, and she can’t get the hang of her little binoculars? Trying to flip them into place, she says something like “these are broken. Mine are broken…” and Edward delicately turns them the other way, and they ‘work’.

Paolo takes the bottle from them and twists the top, it opens perfectly. I’ve no idea what they were doing wrong, but it just adds to the entertainment of their ordeal!

…then they have a cake, and divide it

Having finished their salad platter and consumed their water, their plates are cleared and they are ready to order a cake. Paolo, who clearly learnt from the earlier experience, decides not to bring the menu back, and instead makes some helpful suggestions on what cake they might like – smart work Paolo – they go for a lemon curd tart. Sounds lovely, and when it arrives, they divide it, as South Face can’t eat the whole thing. The slight flaw in this, is that South Face then proceeds to leave it alone completely? Was she actually too full? Did she not fancy lemon curd? Or was it not divided enough for her liking? Who knows. But she can’t eat that, there’s far too much sugar in cakes…

Bill please!