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Do I really look that clueless? [Moved from General Topics]

Granted, I am a 20 year old college student, so I can understand the tendency for waitstaff to over-explain things, but how many times am I going to be told that pommes frites are french fries? Does anybody else get treated like they are wearing "first-timer" t-shirts anytime they venture out from the golden arches?

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  1. Why dont you ask followup questions like "why are they called french fries?" or
    "what makes a tomato an heirloom?" or "what is the difference between a pate
    and a terrine?" etc.

    1. Maybe the waitstaff want you to be ' nice' & make it easy for customers to understand. I'm way older than you, but about a month ago I had a waitress explain that one of the dessert choices was, well, a kind of apple pie (she was searching for words...) & said tarte tatin under her breath to which I quickly replied: tarte tatin, yes, I'll have that! Although I wasn't insulted, we could have saved a few minutes & a bit of effort on her part! (tarte tatin is of course Not the same as apple pie!). Not all of us have the same knowledge of food / cooking terms--somebody else may have been happy having the dish explained.
      Although I did order from an all French menu...

      1. It's frustrating and they should not be disrespectful but waitstaff need to get a read on the relative knowledge of each diner, so I would not take offense - instead, be content knowing that you have a better understanding of food than many people your age. Again, they should not be condescending but It's probably better for them to explain some things to you than to leave others in the dark, since many are too embarrased to ask questions. You can help by asking an intelligent question or two about the food or wine but it goes both ways - you don't want to come off as a snotty know-it-all.

        1. The worst, though, has got to be when a server "explains" things, but is dishing out information that is totally wrong or inaccurate, whether it's a translation, a cooking method, or his/her own rephrasing of a menu item's description.

          1. If the waiter is attempting to be helpful, give them a big smile and say thank you. Be grateful that you have the knowledge. Believe me there will be times when everyone at the table does not know what something is on the menu and each is too embarassed to ask. When the waiter offers up the info, each is pumping their fist under the table. Me, if I do not know an ingredient, i'm asking, that's the only way to learn.

            As the father of a 21 year old, she has fortunately or unfortunately had me as a dad, so she knows more about food then many of her friends. When she has friends over the two most often heard phrases, are "that's delicious" and "what was that?"

            Don't take offense unless they say "do you know what that means?"

            1. I dont expect a server to know my food iq. I allow them to do their schtick, and not try to show them up.

              In a similar circumstance I go to a butcher shop now that is excellent, the butcher the other day took me behind the counter to explain different cuts of meat, grades, etc.. Not knowing I purchased meat for years for Hyatt, so I am well versed on cuts and grades of meat. I didnt want to show this fella up, or come off as a know-it-all, so I listened. Another Reason I listened is it is rare to find people today excited about the work they do and want to share their knowledge.

              1 Reply
              1. I once had a waiter explain that the amuse-bouche was olive tapenade on bruschetta; a few min. later I overheard a different waiter explain to a different table (older & better dressed) that the amuse-bouche was "a mixture of chopped-up olives on toast." Don't know why the difference.

                OTOH, I once overheard a patron say "I'll try the sandwich with the remoulade, whatever the hell that is..."

                My point being, I guess: you never know. Maybe if you get a server who's friendly and not super busy (not one of the condescending ones), you could ask if there's something about your appearance?

                1. Its not you. Its the last 23 customers who asked if they could get fries with the dish. Whenever you deal with the public you tend to answer the same questions over and over until you start answering them before you are asked. It is not just servers. A number of years ago when I renewed my car's license plate the clerk gave me very detailed instructions about where on my license plate to put the new sticker. I remember thinking, "Wow, she must think I am a complete idoit." The next day I was traveling and notice that a full 50% of the license plates I saw had the sticker in the wrong place. The clerk didn't know which 50% I fell into so she treated us all the same. Just be secure in the knowlede that you fall into the educated half.

                  1. It's not you--just shows the average person they have to deal with every day. My brother asked a waitress once what the soup du jour (how it was listed on the menu) was and she replied, "Oh, honey, it's the soup of the day."

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: chowser

                      mmm... that sounds good. i'll have that.


                      1. re: rebs

                        But will they have it tomorrow?

                        1. re: yayadave

                          That might be on the menu as "soup du yesterjour.";-)

                            1. re: SweetPea

                              OK, That's funny.
                              (btw- <i>deja vu</i>

                        2. re: chowser

                          I had a waitress tell me exactly the same thing!
                          Said something to the effect that rebs said!

                        3. Unfortunately, I have found all too many waitstaff to be as unknowledgeable about the food that they are serving as most car salesmen are about the cars that they are selling. An informed, motivated, sophisticated consumer will, in almost every case, be more knowledgeable than the person who is supposed to be informing the customer, IMHO.

                          Hence, the over-explaining is a symptom of a waitperson (or a salesperson) who just learned this bit of knowledge today (or yesterday) and who assumes that because he/she did not previously know what 'pommes frites' are, certainly nobody else could possibly know this obscure bit of information.

                          In my experience, the best way to gauge the level of knowledge and sophistication of the waitstaff is to inquire about what dressings are available for salads. If you are told that 'vin-a-ga-rette' (sic) is available, you can be sure that this waitperson just got off the turnip truck yesterday, and you can cheerfully ignore everything else that this bumpkin tells you regarding the menu.

                          24 Replies
                          1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                            I'll have to disagree with you on gauging someone based on pronunciation. As someone who grew up learning French in school and being exposed to the language on a daily basis for the first 38 years of my life, it continues to amaze me that Americans and, to a lesser degree, Canadians outside of Quebec, totally mispronounce many common French words.

                            Even professional sommeliers say "Sovinyawn Blahnk" rather than "Sovinioh Blah." So you can't go by how a server pronounces vinaigrette.

                            1. re: FlavoursGal

                              Well, the final "n" in French isn't really like an "h" in English, but I get your point.

                              1. re: Pan

                                I know...couldn't think of a better way to spell it. :-)

                                1. re: FlavoursGal

                                  bla(nh) ?? or bla"nh"??

                                  That's such a hard one to teach people. Some people just can't get it. It's easier if they've never seen some of the words spelled because they automatically want to anglicize them.

                                  But the r is the worst to teach, I think.

                                  1. re: luv2bake

                                    The way you've written it, people would automatically pronounce the "n".

                                    1. re: luv2bake

                                      The main thing is, they have to hear a native speaker pronounce the language and imitate that pronunciation. There's no substitute or written sign for that.

                                      1. re: Pan

                                        There is an international phonetic alphabet that would allow those who understand the transcription to pronounce "sauvignon blanc" properly including the proper nasal sounds used in French. We just can't even begin to do that within the limitations of CH.

                                        There's a rhyme from Cork Jester that gets close but without the nasal resonance in "craw" that most Americans have a hard time with. As Pan says, it's best to imitate a native French speaker
                                        Do not pronounce Sauvignon Blanc
                                        Like it rhymes with ker-bonk, honk or wonk
                                        Leave the C in your craw
                                        And say Sauvignon Blaw
                                        Or just order a glass of white plonk

                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                          You just made my night, MakingSense. Thanks for sharing this limerick with us. :-))

                                        2. re: Pan

                                          Then how do you explain a well-known sommelier/television personality who pronounces Sauvignon Blanc improperly? She used to be a regular on Bobby Flay's show, and I cringed every time she talked about a French wine.

                                  2. re: FlavoursGal

                                    While I certainly dont think you should be correcting somebody
                                    with the incorrect pronounciation of a foreign person, place or
                                    thing, I think it is not unreasonable to pronounce some things in
                                    ways natural to the language being spoken [english in this case],
                                    rather than insisting on going for the native pronounciation.

                                    So I think the usual way you hear "blanc" isnt so bad.
                                    After all, in "normal english" we dont say France, Mexico, Nicaragua, Chile
                                    they way they are natively said ... let alone Reims :-). Although I suppose
                                    I'd find "Chab-liss" which the "ch" like "chicken" kinda of grating ... unless
                                    it comes in a box, perhaps.

                                    As for the "you've go to hear a native speaker" ... come on, I cant get chinese
                                    pronounciation correct. I've met very few people here who say Delhi correctly
                                    even with an uttered example, I hear "Darjeeling" mispronounced all the time,
                                    and only got irritated when my pronounciation was corrected [retort: "Have you
                                    been there?"]. People in India didnt know what I was talking about when I
                                    referred to the Enlightended One via the usual American "Boo Duh" pron.

                                    I'd be forgiving if somebody isnt being pedantic and goes for a "natural english
                                    pronounciation". Admittedly this leaves some arbitrariness ... like the Chablis
                                    example above or saying the final T in Merlot ... those seem really horrible ...
                                    but I think saying the final T in say "Mont" (Mont Blanc) isnt awful.
                                    And leaving off the final R in Noir is clearly "trying too hard" rather than going
                                    with this "natural english" pronunciation.

                                    We now return you to Chantilly Lane.

                                    1. re: psb

                                      My point was that if you want to pronounce things the way a native speaker does, you have to listen to one and imitate them. I do not expect people who don't speak French to pronounce French words with any kind of French accent, and I don't, either (I find it harder to get the pronunciation than Italian pronunciation).

                                      1. re: psb

                                        Excuse me, psb, but I was not poking fun at a server in a mid-west American restaurant. I was questioning why a professional, award-winning sommelier, namely Andrea Immer, whose livelihood revolves around wines from around the world, would be mispronouncing the types of wines available in France. It would be understandable for her to mispronounce the name of a particular vineyard or chateau, but Sauvignon Blanc? I fail to see how this is any different from Chablis, Merlot, or Chianti, for that matter.

                                        By the way, how would you pronounce Chantilly? :-))

                                        1. re: FlavoursGal

                                          It is not clear to me why an award winning sommelier
                                          should have flawless French pronounciation. How come
                                          pretty much all white yoga instructors have such awful Sanskrit pronunciation?
                                          Or how about those North Americanos who botch the Daimoku mantra so badly
                                          inspite of saying it 9million times?

                                          I dont know anyting about A Immer, but is her French really not "good enough"?

                                          1. re: FlavoursGal

                                            When I visited the Chateau in Chantilly, I found out that they pronounce it "shanTIY." Or if you like, "shahnTEEY." I don't think I'd use that pronunciation for anything but the town in France.

                                            1. re: Pan

                                              But anything called "Chantilly" IS pertaining to the town in France. Not important, but you missed a syllable - it's "shahntee-YEE".

                                              Can you imagine telling that to The Big Bopper and Jerry Lee Lewis while their song was #1 on the charts (years apart)?

                                              1. re: FlavoursGal

                                                The pronunciation I gave you was done repeatedly by the tour guide working for the Chateau.

                                                No, I think that the only time you're really referring to the town is when you refer to the town itself or the Chateau. Let's not be unreasonable here. LOL.

                                                1. re: FlavoursGal

                                                  >Can you imagine telling that to The Big Bopper ...
                                                  not me personally, but i can imagine "Ratchting Pedants" doing so.
                                                  [see comment below on ratcheting phenomena] ...
                                                  "only the french pronunciation is good enough"
                                                  "no, no, only the parisian french is good enough"
                                                  "non! only somebody from chantilly, preferable a guide at the chateau"
                                                  "hi, i am the closest living descendant of Anne de Montmorency, so you
                                                  all shut the hell up and ecoutez-moi"

                                                  I rest my case. I shall now go have some Noilly Prat.

                                                  1. re: psb

                                                    How would you pronounce that? tee hee.

                                                    1. re: FlavoursGal

                                                      Noilly PRAT and MOET Chandon are two words whose pronunciation
                                                      *some* people like to argue about. Some how, arguing about how to
                                                      pronounce "prat" has an amusing irony to it.

                                          2. re: FlavoursGal

                                            But French pronunciation is hardly standardized. My grandmother is a native Quebecois French speaker; I learned French in school from North Africans (a quirk -- all of my French teachers were North African), my mother learned from a Provencal person, and my dad's spoken French is all Parisian, and we can hardly understand each other. (My grandmother's actually the worst - I was 25 before I realized the card game batoy was her French Canadian pronunciation of bataille, but it's really just a dialect).

                                            1. re: Amuse Bouches

                                              Yep. Just as English is pronounced differently in New York, Boston, Alabama, Vancouver, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, etc., not to mention all the accents within London, even.

                                          3. re: Ted in Central NJ

                                            Quite right on just learned that yesterday. Besides, you'd think those French would learn how to say "apple pie" by now. And how to make one, for that matter.

                                            1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                                              I would love to know what you do for a living? If I were a car salesmem I would take you for a ride! I don't think you have any experience ,your statements say you should jump back on your turnip truck! Oh I forgot the customer is allways write or was that right?! sorry ted that you feel that way !

                                              1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                                                I am glad I am not a waiter who is forced to have customers who THINK they know everything about everything and can use such bigotry in their view of fellow humans who are working hard for a living. If people state that they have never been to a resto where they did not know what every ingredient on every line of the menu then they have not experienced the beauty of travel and learning.

                                                I only wish that you would modify your handle so others do not think that everyone from NJ has the same obnoxious attitude as expressed in this post.

                                              2. I get the same treatment any time I go to a cookware store and I'm a fifty something male. Every female sales person will ask me at least once and sometime twice, "May I help you?" because they just assume I'm shopping for a present for a woman and I can't hit my ass with a China cap.

                                                16 Replies
                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  one of my favorite things was when the server at Lee told our party in a big loud, theatrical voice, (unprompted), that "ORZO IS AN ELBOW-SHAPED PASTA" and a silence fell over the table. Three chefs were sitting at it. It just came off condescending and not helpful- because he didn't get to know his party, everyone felt irritated. Ok, the big theatrical manner prolly didn't help. Wasn't a big deal at all but it just sticks out as a comical moment in my mind.

                                                    1. re: FlavoursGal

                                                      well, he just seemed so pleased with himself, I think we all felt it would be a bit churlish to correct him, yanno? But it was so funny, if you could have seen the way he announced it- honestly it was hilarious.

                                                      1. re: nummanumma

                                                        I think that I would have had to order it and then, when it arrived, ask "where's the orzo?" "cause that's rice -right?" ;)

                                                        1. re: troutpoint

                                                          I would've gotten a good look at his elbows

                                                          1. re: troutpoint

                                                            no, it is pasta- it looks like maggoty rice though. :)

                                                            1. re: nummanumma

                                                              nummanumma, I have a feeling that troutpoint was being facetious.

                                                              1. re: FlavoursGal

                                                                she must have been, she knows better...don'tcha trout?

                                                                1. re: nummanumma

                                                                  IF there's gonna be sarcasm in the room-I'm your girl! :)

                                                                  (and I know what orzo is...but I LOVE the fact that Flavorsgal doesn't know me and GOT me!) Tee hee.

                                                                  1. re: troutpoint

                                                                    Something to be proud of, I gather??? :-))

                                                                      1. re: troutpoint

                                                                        troutie- you are a mystery wrapped in a creme brulee (lumu!)

                                                                        1. re: nummanumma

                                                                          lumu right back atcha,
                                                                          ummmm.... what's this ca -ca up above,??? am I drinking too much at dinner, or are most of the new comments "a little much"?

                                                                            1. re: troutpoint

                                                                              sheer silliness. Let's hear em speak with a Moncton accent. heh.
                                                                              you know, I just remembered the saffron orzo from two weeks ago...all this talk about orzo..am going back on MOnday. Will call immediately after with update.

                                                    2. My fave is when a waiter deigned to inform me that steak tartare was prepared raw.

                                                      "Wow. I'm glad you told me. I was going to embarass myself and order it well-done!"

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: GroovinGourmet

                                                        Heh, funny thing is, my sister did this once. The chef came out of the kitchen and peered at her for a while, shaking his head in dismay.

                                                        Now she orders it rare ;)

                                                      2. We went to a Mexican restaurant in a town predominantly Hispanic in Newhall CA and me and my gf being Asian, they sent out the slowest talker to come take our order.

                                                        This is 100% real.

                                                        Waitress: Hi, welcome to El ****, have you guys been here before?

                                                        Me: No we haven't

                                                        Waitress: Well, this is a Mexican resaurant, and we have food that is Mexican

                                                        Me: Really?!

                                                        Waitress: Yes, do you have any questions about the menu?

                                                        GF: Yes, what is a burro?

                                                        Waitress: Well, a burro is made from fresh ground corn flour, we call it a tortilla, and we put meats and vegetables and wrap it.

                                                        Me: Oh, so it's a burrito

                                                        Waitress: No, it's a burro

                                                        1. I am very embarassed by the attitude of many on this thread.

                                                          Have you not wandered into a resto whre you look at the menu and know less than 100% of the dishes? Is it improper for the waiter to try to make sure you know of all the chooses available for the chef to prepare? Would you rather try to impress those around you by ordering something you think you know, have something else delivered and then have to either eat it or embarass yourself in having a discussion with the waiter saying "that's not what i ordered." With the waiter immediately responding, "that's exactly how the menu staes it is prepared?"

                                                          I have been fortunate to travel the world and have locals take me to their favorite restos. In each case they pay incredible time in walking me through the menu to make sure I can experience their cuisine and understand that culturally I may not want soemthing that is normal fare to them.

                                                          This Thread's got to lighten up and enjoy.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                            >I am very embarassed by the attitude of many on this thread.
                                                            yah, i think some of this illustrates a phenomena i call "ratcheting" ...
                                                            where people sort of arbitrarily decide where a pass/fail line is ...
                                                            with themselves of course being given a pass ... "any true chowhound
                                                            knows what Grissini is, but ok, Gugelhopf is a bit obscure".

                                                            i certainly do appreciate it when menus have descriptions. i'm always
                                                            curious at what is going through the head of a menu writer when he
                                                            uses some term he's got to know 75% of his readers will not know.
                                                            i'm not saying it's wrong to use the obscure but accurate word, but
                                                            if he uses some word like "piccalilli", he's got to add a desciption
                                                            or expect people are going to have to ask what it is (i looked that word
                                                            up ... i dont know much about food, just arguing about food).

                                                            and of course with steak tartare, it's certainly *the* example of "better
                                                            safe than sorry" [along with boudin noir and "you know andouillette
                                                            is not Andouille, right"].

                                                            i've had things explained to be in obviously condescending ways [when
                                                            i didnt hear what the waiter said at Aqua] and asked if i knew what
                                                            something was in a friendly "just checking" kinda of way [Hachis Parmentier,
                                                            at chez maman] ... it's pretty easy to tell one guy needed a beating and the
                                                            other guy was cool.

                                                            1. re: psb

                                                              Maybe we can all agree that it's the ability to be informative, yet not pedantic that makes the really great servers great. Those that can't aren't bad people, they're just not as good at their job.

                                                          2. I pick up a lot of things from reading. I know of what I speak but since I have not heard the information in conversation, I often mispronounce the words (esp. in French). I appreciate a waitperson who is kind enough to go through a brief bit of explanation and display proper diction in a nice, personal way. BTW, I am in my 50's.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: byteme55

                                                              You make a good point. The first time I ordered gnocchi I misprounced it, though I knew exactly what it was. Yes, I cringed when the waiter corrected me, but I'd never heard the word spoken before. I'm sure a lot of people pick up information from reading.

                                                            2. I don't mind when a server over-explains, but I've heard some funny ones... I had a server repeatedly correct my pronunciation of Salad NeeSWAZ with, "oh, you mean the Salade NeeSWAH?" Um, yes please! That one!

                                                              And then a server who used a word I didn't know, and I asked what it was, and he said with a sneer, "well, it's like the french version of a crouton." Our table did an admirable job of holding our chuckles until he was out of earshot. I don't remember the word, but it was, indeed, a crouton.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: Tartinet

                                                                "Y'see, the French don't have a word for entrepreneur." --our President

                                                                And did anybody notice that a couple years ago, during all the fuss about "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" at the congressional cafeteria, they still called the piece of paper with the food list on it a "MENU"?

                                                                1. re: misterbrucie

                                                                  I think that they get away with it since it's a misuse of the word menu... in fact, I'm sure it was a part of the decider's strategery.