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Am I just an ugly American?

After our recent trip to French Polynesia, I am having some trouble pinning down exactly how I feel about the service we received at several high end establishments.

For the most part, the resort restaurants we patronized (from breakfast buffet to "fine dining,") were staffed by young, French speaking servers, some Polynesian, some French. My French is not perfect by any means, but my accent is good, and my rendition of "L'addition, s'il vous plait," is certainly understandable. Yet we encoutered, time and time again, being plain old ignored by our servers. They would forget second drinks we had ordered. They would take questions about ingredients and say they would ask the chef, but would never offer an answer. They would nod to the aforementioned "L'addition," question, and not print out our bill. They would not pre-bus, or bus the table at all (and there certainly was no bus person dedicated to this task). They put fingers in our taro mash. They forgot to fire our deserts. They pulled the lightest, wateriest single espresso I have ever had.

These were USD 300 + meals, mind you, not some regular, every day brasseries.

This got me to thinking about what I am used to as an American.

When I was trained for my first front of house job, as a waitress in a Bennigans (read: TGI Fridays), I learned about the windows of service. That the drink order should be taken within 5 minutes of seating. That there needs to be a checkback after each course is dropped for drinks, condiments, or possible problems with the order. If I did not follow these rules, chances were I would not make my 15-20% (which at a Bennigans is about $6-$8) tip. At subsequent jobs, and better venues, I learned about upselling water and drinks. It was in my best interest to sell as much food and drink as possible to the customer, not just to boost my restaurant’s profits, but to ensure I could make a living off of a percentage of that gross in the form of tips. I also needed to do as much business as possible and turn over as many times as I could. So if the food was not out yet, I went to the kitchen to find it before my customers had time to miss it. If something wasn’t on the table I went and got it myself, especially if I noticed my runner was weeded.

Since the service is included at those French Polynesian establishments, it made me wonder. Is French service more socialist and American service capitalist?

Granted, the corporatization of American restaurants is distasteful sometimes- hearing the same stock company script over and over to point where “it’s my pleasure to serve you,” loses its meaning. (Really, if I had wanted fries with that I would have asked for them. Fries are not something I need help remembering.)

But the hustle and elbow grease that I’ve come to expect for my 20% seems to be a special thing.

Or is it?

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  1. hmm. I had fantastic service throughout Paris in a variety of settings-

    2 Replies
    1. re: nummanumma

      Dude, you DO realize that French Polynesia is NOT IN FRANCE, don't you?

      1. re: pgym

        um, yes. I was referring to the original title of this thread which compared European service to American service...and the fact that the poster continuously refers to 'the french' as one big group.
        "Is French service more socialist and American service capitalist?"

    2. A rule of thumb I have distilled from my experiences: The closer I get to the equator, the worse the service gets. Live with it, make the time for it, laugh about it. And remember the lyric from Mark Knopfler "We're a long way from home - let's just pay the man and go".

      2 Replies
      1. re: Veggo

        I could absolutely understand that sentiment if it were a less expensive meal, but at the prices the OP mentioned I'd expect more.

        1. re: Veggo

          I can't say I expected that lyric to pop up in a discussion here, but it is apt.

        2. I was in Bora Bora in 2004, and the service I got at restaurants could be best described as "lay back." I don't think the servers' approach to customers has anything to do with you being an American. It may sound un-PC, but Veggo's point about service in the tropics, specifically in the non-industrial areas, certainly rings true. Does it bother me? Not really.

          1 Reply
          1. re: dty

            re: service on vacation, french vs american style

            At the Sofitel in Santo Domingo I had the BEST service ever encountered at a hotel. What a dissapointment when we went to the Hilton by the beach. disgusting. I love Sofitels, in general I think they have the best service of hotel chains in their price range.
            Food at a Sofitel in Morocco was better prepared and "cleaner" tasting than anything we had in Morocco (sorry, but I have only found home made Moroccan or Moroccan in american restaurants to be really excellent, oh with the exception of the most expensive restaurant in casablanca which was good)
            Funny story, we drove way out of our way to get to the "Sofitel" in Petra, as advertised in the town's brochure. The hotel was definitely no longer 5star, I think they weren't getting enough people, and the "Sofitel" name was nowhere to be found. all of the rooms had been built from mock clay and rocks, and there were few windows. the hotel was built to look like the caves of petra, sort of. it was huge, and it was possible to get lost on the "streets" of the hotel. there were also shops in "business" and an empty restaurant serving dinner, even though there were clearly less than a handful of people staying there. it was like a ghost town hotel - I think Sofitel pulled out due to lack of business. so we settled for a very ugly Marriott room and bypassed the marriott's "italian" buffet where english and chinese tourists sat eating very unhappily in favor of a local schwarma place the waiter recommended.

          2. Global eating is an experience unto itself. From the food to the prices to the service to the on and on.

            jfood spent the last two years around the world and the one thing he learned was enjoy the experience that most can only imagine. sushi in tokyo, followed the next night by spicy crabs in singapore. does jfood remember the service, nah, he remembers enjoying the experience of eating with locals, in local, prepared by locals and dining with locals. as tiring and draining these trips were (around the world in 6 days) the greatest memories were these meals. breakfast in dubai eating whatever, grilled fish in israel, unbelievable. top experiences and jfood still smiles at the memories.

            so when traveling, enjoy the surrounds, take the USA-DNA out of the brain, kick it back, enjoy, and remember. if your blood pressure rises in these circumstances, go back to the hotel and tell the person in the mirror to chill and ejoy.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jfood

              i have to echo jfood's comments. i spend time in asia and europe every year. lived in both. i just try to fit in. my typical m.o. is to hit the hawker stalls, street vendors, whatever and get the lay of the land. i hit the low key ex-pat places when needed. seldom visit the high-end places. not because i have issues, just because i haven't explored all the other stuff yet.

            2. That's the way it is in French Polynesia - I'm not surprised.

              1 Reply
              1. re: torta basilica

                sailing the exumas (bahamas) and the ec is a hoot. islands accessible only by sailboat have a quality that must be experienced. the more remote the better. pacific resorts in french polynesia sound like they should be avoided.

              2. We always called it Chinese time when I was little. Then as I got to know more people, I learned to call it Asian time. In Hawaii, they called it Hawaiian time. You are in the tropics and yes, it is more kick back. As others have indicated, it's just how it is, not good or bad, as one should not compare apples and oranges. Shakabra!

                28 Replies
                1. re: justagthing

                  Japanese time is right on the clock. If we host a dinner, the Japanese & Swiss are right on time; gringos & others raised here come anywhere 5-15 minutes after. Persians, Mexicans, et al, are also on their own clock.

                  1. re: OCAnn

                    Hah! MET (middle eastern time) - you say dinner is at 6 people show up at 8:30. It's not about when you're serving food, it's about when they're hungry.

                    1. re: adrienne156

                      That's just not true (the they show up when they are hungry part). I promise to post a longer explanation that they even use on State Dept. training videos tomorrow when I am less tired. It's actually very humorous...

                      1. re: chaddict

                        That should be interesting, but I was mainly joking and speaking from my own experiences with my parents' dinner parties growing up. It actually is not about when people are hungry, but more about how long it takes the women (myself included) to get ready!

                        1. re: adrienne156

                          This will probably get deleted but here goes..

                          So the video was to train Americans on Arabic mores and customs. They used a dinner party as a way to show cultural differences. First up, an American invited to an Arab feast. (This is all coming from the video so don't start blasting me personally as if I wrote this myself. These are all generalities and probably some stereotypes but I have experienced some of this. Bash away on my personal comments.) Now the American has heard tales of these magnificent dinners so he doesn't eat much all day in anticipation of a grand feast. He asks what time to show up. The Arab host is a little confused and throws out a time, “Around 9:00?”

                          The video then goes into an explanation that time has a slightly different meaning in the Arab world. We Americans have a different sense of time (i.e. never feeling like there is enough of it, etc.) and therefore place a high priority on being on time. Arabs (not my words, folks) place what is in front of them as more important. For instance, say they are on their was to meeting and they run into an old friend. They will stop and take the time to find out-really find out-how that friend is, not a perfunctory “How are you? Great! Well, gotta run!” but really stop and inquire after every member of the family, health, current events, whatever. Personally, I found this way of living quite lovely and adored my time in the Middle East.

                          So, back to our diner. He shows up promptly at 9:00, very hungry. The host seems a bit taken aback but warmly welcomes him in. Everyone sits, drinks tea and the host sincerely inquires as to every aspect of the American's life. Conversation goes on and on as more guests trickle in. Time ticks and the guest is beginning to starve and wonder when in the world are they going to serve the food! Round about midnight, dinner is finally served. Every single part of the rug (they are eating on the floor) is covered with platters and bowls of food. The video explains that a show of generosity is very important and that there is always more food than required. Covering the entire surface is very important, even if that means taking a single item and dividing into different bowls.

                          My own experience has been that Arabs are amongst the most generous people in the world. It makes sense in an arid land, especially amongst the nomadic Arabs, that one cannot survive alone. Generosity then becomes especially key to survival. I love this aspect of the culture. Even when I would go to the poorest villages in Yemen, I was ALWAYS offered food and drink. Heck! Once I was offered an AK47 because they were worried for my safety as I traveled (the full story is actually quite funny and sweet but I digress). You really need to understand just how many months of salary that gun can cost a family there and this is a least, not less, developed county. Or at least the UN listed it as such at the time.

                          Now the American goes lightly on the first pass, thinking there will be many rounds. Dinner is leisurely and then that's it. Coffee and water bowls are offered to clean hands and the dinner is abruptly ended. The American is somewhat taken aback, being accustomed to leisurely after dinner conversation, etc. and leaves tired and hungry.

                          Now, the Arab guest and American host...The American invites his Arab counterpart to dinner at 7:00. The guest graciously accepts but is a little puzzled as to the early start time. Time having a different meaning here, the guest shows up at 9:00, I mean, who eats so early? There is a little chit chat and then straight to the table. Odd thinks the guest.

                          The video then breaks to expound on this further and uses business meetings as an example. Americans might have a little back and forth then it's all business. (Again, these generalizations are not mine but the State Dept. video.) Arabs value personal relations in business very much. So a business meeting might begin with a very lengthy personal conversation and inquiries as to your family's, health, etc. before the actual business begins.

                          So the host has planned a lovely, American meal of steak, potatoes, etc. One steak and baked potato per person. Huh, thinks the guest. The host has actually counted exactly how many guests there will be and served exactly that number. Strange...

                          When the host asks if the Arab would like more of some side or other, he politely declines, expecting to be asked the customary three times before accepting. “No? Alright then,” says the American and whisks the bowl away. Poor guest really would have liked some more. Then dessert and coffee is served and the guest thinks it's time to leave. But, nooooo! NOW it's time for conversation!

                          I think the point was that both sides are very well-meaning, it's just that we have different customs. It was not meant to bash the Arabs but rather to help an American stationed there to better understand his host country.

                          I don't think anybody is "ugly" (well, OK, some can be), it's just that we come from different cultures. As long as we don't expect things to function like "home" and go with the flow, we'll all be OK.

                          1. re: chaddict

                            Thank you for the summary of the video. I agree that it is just a matter of different customs, but what I see most of the time when I travel are many 'ugly' Americans. All too often I have heard, 'Well, that is not how we would do it in America.' or something very similar to that. It is sad how a minority (I am hoping) can really make the majority look so bad.

                            1. re: justagthing

                              You are likely an American and when you travel you probably notice other Americans. Every nation and group however has unfortunate stereotypes about other nationalities groups that they consider just as bad, probably worse. Those "Ugly [fill in the blank....] That's how they all behave you know." We're not really happy when people tell us that our system is wrong either because it's not how it's done in France, Canada or Japan, are we?
                              Fortunately, I think we're more aware now and making a greater effort to cross cultural lines.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                I am an American, but I consider myself bi-cultural. I grew up with my ethnic culture and the American culture. I also notice other travelers as well and ok, maybe I can't understand what they are all saying, but they don't make distasteful faces when something isn't working out for them in 'their' expected way.

                                I also have relatives in Germany, China, Japan and Taiwan. I never hear them complain when they visit, about how we do things vs. how they do it back home. I have also worked in retail in which I have had many clients that are foreign and never did I hear a negative connotation like I do when I am traveling. The problem is many, not all, also complain about ourselves, when we visit other parts of the US. When someone has something to comment about, they should learn to do it graciously and not in a negative or condescending manner. Yes, there are stereotypes, but that is what the meaning of the word is...also, we need to get off our high horse here in the US. Of course this is all IMHO

                                OK, off my soap box.

                                1. re: justagthing

                                  (This in response to justagthing)

                                  Oh, I have heard complaints from foreigners in the US, just in their native tongues which a lot of American don't (sadly) understand. Trust you me, my Italian friends had plenty of choice words to say about the US, just not in a language most Americans near them could understand. My French roommate could go on a diatribe about what she thinks about the US, just that she will do it in French, if in public. And my dearly departed Japanese friend certainly felt things were done better in Japan. Yes, we need to get off our high horse in the US, most certainly. But it's not just us.

                                  To make this food-centric, I will say that Americans seem (to me in my limited experience) more willing to try other foods than others. Of course, we also have so many more nationalities living under one roof than just about any other country, Canada excepted, so it would make sense. Doesn't make us better or worse, it just is what it is.

                                  1. re: chaddict

                                    Actually, I felt my comment wasn't so much a complaint as much as an observance. I actually feel sorry for people that act such ways. If one took the time to just soak it all in, then they could have a better time on their travels. It seems that what is wrong is that life doesn't revolve around them. Yes, it happens to all types of people, but I am just commenting on what I see, hear and experience. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

                                    1. re: justagthing

                                      " If one took the time to just soak it all in, then they could have a better time on their travels."

                                      Bingo! Very well expressed! I never took your comment as a complaint, absolutely as an observance.

                                      1. re: justagthing

                                        Couldn't agree with you more, justagthing. Goes for travel abroad and for within the US. Every place has its own quirks that you have to roll with. I didn't mean to single you out. Many seem to think this is solely a problem of Americans behaving badly abroad. Most of us don't. Some of us are horrible within our own borders. We aren't different than the rest of the world. Creeps are creeps - wherever they come from, wherever they go. I feel sorry for them too.

                                      2. re: chaddict

                                        My experiences have been the same as yours. I have in-laws in Singapore an Malaysia. When they come here, the first thing most of them do is complain openly about the food - any food - unless it is Chinese or what they are used to in Singapore and Malaysia. I can understand their inability to aclimate to the non-asian cuisines here, as they are quite different, and frankly, a good chunk of what's here is just not as interesting. However, as many have already voiced, when you go to different places, whether it's across the county or across the world, one really needs to open the door to these new surroundings and breathe it in.

                                        French Polynesia is somewhat of an oxymoron. The French are still viewed by many of the locals as interlopers. If it were up to most of the native Polynesians, there would be nothing French about Polynesia. As much as the French enjoy and demand the finer things to eat and the finer points in serving those things and try to extend it to all of their former and present colonies, one can never erase the cultural influences of the Polynesians and of course their great pride. Had the OP attempted to speak to the staff members who were Polynesian in their native tongue (attempt as most locals understand that the average tourist won't be fluent in most South Pacific tongues), I would bet my pink slip (although you wouldn't want my car) that an immediate bond would have formed and the experience would have improved markedly. Native people from the South Pacific in general are very friendly, generous, and NEVER forget people who have shown kindness to them as well. And in kindness, I mean not so much the monetary or material kind, but just being genuinely nice and making a sincere attempt in showing appreciation of their respective culture. The emotional baggage that they carry from ions of colonialism is hard for many to shake. So when one goes to these islands, makes the effort to show that they acknowledge their culture, and not that of their former or present colonizers, then you will have a lifelong friend.

                                        1. re: chaddict

                                          "Trust you me, my Italian friends had plenty of choice words to say about the US, just not in a language most Americans near them could understand."
                                          Yes, Italians have a very nasty habit of speaking about other people in Italian right in front of them. At a communal dinner with various nationalities, two very spoiled Italian young men sitting next to me looked at my disabled cousin shoveling in her food and said "disgusting" and continued to make comments about her throughout the meal, "look at her now!" I then turned to them at the end of the meal and asked them in Italian where in Italy they were from, they were shocked.
                                          Same trip, on a "safari" in DR, a French speaking tour guide tried to give the "americans" a different price for the video of the trip than everyone else. We had mistakenly been placed on the French bus because of my uncle's last name. Well, after hearing this in French, Spanish, and Italian I told the tour guide what I thought of him in front of everyone. However I don't think this would have happened in France.

                                        2. re: justagthing

                                          Justagthing, complaining about foreigners is an international sport. No matter where you are. In Europe, they complain about the Germans, Italians, Spanish, French, British (who forget which side of the road to drive on), Japanese (with the cameras), Russians, Algerians, Middle Easterners, whoever, as much as they complain about the Americans. See Chaddict's example. The same is true in Asia and Latin America.
                                          As Chaddict says, it's not just Americans. No country has cornered the market on arrogant or ignorant, borish behavior.
                                          And that's particularly true with food. We probably have a greater variety of foods available at all levels in our society (not just a well-educated, well-traveled class) than any other country and our people are more willing to try things. Many others are much more likely to turn up their noses at the unfamiliar and expect special treatment.

                                          This is just a tourist issue in general. In cities in the US which get heavy tourist traffic, the locals spend lots of time discussing the bad habits of the tourists - how they dress inappropriately, take all the parking spaces, act badly in restaurants and museums, walk across the streets like there's no cars coming, The tourists complain that the cities aren't tourist-friendly. Hey, we live and work here. The tourists can be a pain however much money they're adding to the economy.

                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                            Making Sense, you crack me up! Living in Venice, I found it rather amusing how the Venetian merchants (some) held ALL tourists, including Italians, as fair game. There was Venezia and there was Terra Ferma, and damn them all! I would watch as some hapless tourist would walk in and be charged twice the price for an espresso. The barista would do this shamelessly then turn and wink to me in a knowing way. God, I miss that place!

                                            1. re: chaddict

                                              When we lived in Latin America, I shopped in local food markets. When I was quoted an initial outrageous price, I would exclaim indignantly, "Senora, I am NOT a tourist! I live here." The price would immediately plummet and we would start bargaining in earnest, always laughing. I paid a fraction of the "tourist" price. It worked even in non-food markets.

                                              1. re: chaddict

                                                chaddict, that's exactly the experience I recently had on a trip to Bangalore. I was working with people who had moved there from other Indian cities (sometimes only a few hundred km away). They all had the same problems I did trying to get a fair price for anything...a glass of juice, a taxi, a sarong...and don't even get me going about trying to buy souvenirs. It was a blast! The only people getting things for the "real" price were people who grew up there or had been there at least a decade or so. I can't wait to go back.

                                                The thing is, the people were wonderful. Once the bargaining game was over (and I'm SURE I must have "lost" every time), they were very helpful with how to get places, where to go for a good masala dosa, etc.

                                          2. re: MakingSense

                                            I worked at the Guggenheim in Venice, first as an intern, then again later. The nationality that caused the most problems? The French. There was one official security guard at the time (geez, I hope they have changed that). Every time an intern went to a guard with a problem, the first question they would ask was "Francese?" And 95% of the time it was.

                                            The American visitors might slaughter the language but at least most would make an attempt. "Doo-ey poor favooray?" Or speak, timidly, "Do you speak English?" before asking for tickets in English. I always found this cute as I am half Asian working in an American museum and well, I don't exactly look Italian. They would almost tiptoe around the museum, afraid to cause harm.

                                            The majority of the French visitors I dealt with would only speak French without even asking if I spoke it first. Look, you are in ITALY at an AMERICAN museum. Why should you assume I speak French? OK, OK, I did understand but still! I once had an argument in the middle of the museum with a French professor ( because his school group would simply not follow the rules in the small, packed museum). He spoke entirely in French, I in Italian. It was actually pretty comical because we understood each other perfectly but were too stubborn to budge from our languages.

                                            Yes, I have seen extremely bad behavior by Americans abroad. But I have seen equally bad behavior by French, Germans, Italians, etc., etc. I guess what I am trying to say is that no one is truly ugly, just maybe ignorant (as in being unaware and sheltered, not stupid) of other ways of doing things.

                                            I remember standing in a very posh shop in Florence, shoes in one hand and cash in the other, trying desperately to purchase them in an empty store. I couldn't get the two clerks to quit yabbing to save my life so I could purchase these shoes! I remember thinking "Man, service isn't like the US. In the States I would have been showered with "can I help you"s the minute I walked in the door. Then I had to stop for a second and tell myself "Well, you aren't in the States so get over it!"

                                            See, we all do it. I think we mean well, all of us. With all things, a little patience.

                                            1. re: chaddict

                                              That can work the other way as well. I was in Fortnum and Mason in London one year during a Christmas rush with people lined up in multiple queues at the candy counter. I had picked up a box of candy they had on display that was slightly crushed (the last one left) and when it was my turn at the counter, I just asked if they had more made up in the back but if not, I would take what I had. I figured the clerk would wave me off as would probably happen in the United States during a Christmas rush but she said "No, we have no more made up but I will go in the back and make you one." So, even with a tremendous number of people waiting, she took the time to personally give me good service. I have never forgotten that and return whenever I am in London.

                                              1. re: Velma

                                                Love Fortnum and Mason! And yes, it can ALWAYS work the other way. That is what makes travel so wonderful. And lucky you getting to go back multiple times, I'm jealous!

                                                1. re: chaddict

                                                  Well, I think that my travel experiences have made me a more patient person! I was in a small, family owned chocolate store in Canada a couple of years ago with my brother and sister and we were putting the elderly clerk through her paces. It was taking her an incredibly long time to assemble our chocolates and get us checked out. In the meantime, several other customers had come in for chocolate but instead of getting impatient and angry like I might have in a similar situation, they simply sat down with newspapers and waited their turn. It made me think about the term "ugly American" that day. I could only imagine myself being made to wait that long for service in any American store and I don't know that I would have been so totally laid back but it sure gave me a different perspective on how to handle myself in public. They were lovely examples of how to be good customers.

                                                  1. re: Velma

                                                    You might have gotten annoyed at the slow service, but it works the other way around too. As someone who grew up in Quebec, when I started a new job in the States I was really shocked and annoyed by the "hovering" sales people and waiters in the U.S. It felt like no matter what store I went to I couldn't go five seconds without being bothered by a clerk. To me this felt very rude, but I soon realized that this was just the way things are done in the U.S.

                                                    I adapted, and even learned to appreciate American style service, but I still prefer the way things are done at home. (If I need something, I'll ask for it.)
                                                    Different cultures value different things and maybe the original poster's servers weren't "ignoring" him, but trying not to bother him too much.

                                        3. re: chaddict

                                          Been there, done that! There was a study a few years ago that showed that people from the South of the U.S. were more successively in Middle Eastern countries because they were better able to adjust to the pace and rhythm there. That was certainly true when my ex-husband (from West Virginia) was working in Saudia Arabia. He was quite happy to go to someone's office, sit and have a cup of tea and chat for quite awhile before getting around to the business at hand. His colleague (for a short time) from New York would rush around, diving right into the business discussion. The Saudis hated him so much he was out of there after a couple of months. We had lovely dinner parties there- but had to learn to deal with the differences in sense of time.

                                          1. re: chaddict

                                            Interesting stuff...sounds like an analog of language and linguistic patterns, i.e., in many countries/cultures you write/argue by first explaining all the parameters then finishing up with the thesis/main point at the very end. Conversely, in the U.S. and some other western cultures you do the complete opposite - state your position and defend/argue it. Fanscinating to see it applies to food.

                                            1. re: chaddict

                                              i think the funniest thing when you hear the video advice by the state department is the existence of americans who are otherwise extremely sheltered and unworldly, sent to foreign countries and given these training videos to help them adapt. the poor people that actually follow these videos!
                                              the above mentioned W. Virginian, however brings to mind the common sense and decency some Americans have that causes them, even without previous exposure, to get along splendidly.

                                    2. re: justagthing

                                      This made me laugh. When my husband and I were in Greece, we always called it "greek time". The hotel concierges (in all the places in Greece that we visited) would call us a cab and tell us that it would be there in 5 minutes. The cab would show up 1/2 hour later. As New Yorkers, this droves us nuts because we're always in a rush, rush mode. After we realized that it's just the "greek way", we laughed about it. And 5 years later, we still laugh about it.

                                      1. re: justagthing

                                        There's also the "older diners with plenty of time" who arrive 1/2 hr early. Not a problem at a restaurant but for a holiday dinner at home...man it's weird. But what are you going to do?

                                      2. Have you ever lived in a place like that? You have three choices. You can leave. You can drive yourself crazy fighting a system you will never change. Or you can accept that things are just that way. After a little while it becomes oddly fascinating.
                                        I once offered to buy the entire stock of oranges at lunchtime from the street vendor outside the office building where I worked in Latin America. No, Senora, I need these to sell this afternoon. I pointed out that she could either go home early or go three blocks over to the wholesale market, get more oranges to sell and make more money in the afternoon. She wasn't having any of it so I went to the wholesale market myself to get my oranges. She was still there several hours later selling the same oranges, thinking differently than Americans do.

                                        Read Herman Wouk's Don't Stop the Carnival. Great beach read.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                          Wow...cultural differences or not--that's just plain silly!

                                        2. I think comparing your experience to your American semi-fast food training is greatly unfair to cultures everywhere.

                                          One mindset change that you need to undergo is that in many restaurants in the rest of the world, the goal is not to turn the table as many times/night as possible.

                                          Since you are equating the French Polynesia way with French way, this may be the case here as well. I know that when Americans, so very used to being rushed through a meal, go to France, they find the service lacking, because you aren't being hounded to get out for another table. Perhaps rather than expect them to hurry, you should slow- you know, when in Rome and all that?

                                          Personally, lingering over a meal is one of my favorite activities. While your recounting sounds like more than lingering, Polynesia is not known for it's 5-star haute cuisine in general. I'd hit the local spots for good local grub, rather than expensive food.

                                          Lastly, "resort restaurants" are the last place I'd eat had I my drothers. Go where the food is, not the "cuisine"

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: cheesemonger

                                            In the OP's defense, depending where you are in FP, there's not a whole lot else other than resort cuisine.

                                            1. re: cheesemonger

                                              We actually did eat at a few off campus restaurants, and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

                                              My problem was with the very expensive dinners, without the service to match.

                                              Really, if I ask for another drink, you should get it for me. That is your job. I am not here for the wait staff, they are here to facilitate my meal.

                                              Also, one of the resorts we went to was staffed mostly by people from France, not from the island. Hence the "French" reference.

                                              And another thing? I only mentioned my apparently unseemly "fast food" experience, which, by the way, was my very first job when I was nineteen years old, because it amazed me that a tasteless company serving terrible food knew more about training servers to SERVE than a world class chef's restaurant in a $1000 per night hotel.

                                              1. re: julietg

                                                i think your frustration must stem from the amount of money you paid for the experiences. hearing this, i will not go to french polynesia as there's nothing I can't stand more when travelling or eating out as paying a lot for a mediocre experience. were you pushy (in a not over the top way) with the waitstaff? sometimes that will do the trick if they are not otherwise motivated, they don't want to get in trouble with the manager. but generally being confined to the big hotel environment means you will end up paying more than the experience is worth. there is no competition, they can do whatever they want. and you are unlikely to come back. not to sound too pushy myself, but i recommend next time staying within easy distance of a city or going to a very small hotel, where people serve well because it's so much more intimate.

                                            2. I've lived and worked all over the globe for the last 35 years--mostly in developing countries. No one has irritated me more than: a) US, Canadian, and French immigration people, and b) hotel staff in Montreal.

                                              The rhythm and pace of restaurants in the developing countries is different, but, to me has never been offensive. Sometimes even better than in France: check out the restaurant in the Hotel du France in Tana, Madagascar: best French food and service I've ever had.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                a) US, Canadian, and French immigration people - Haha Sam, you sure it's not because you are coming in from Cali, Colombia? I'll have to agree on the French immigration, they stripped me once coming in from Belgium!

                                                Service in the tropics, I would say unless you are at an international chain like say the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, or something like Hotel Du France in Tana, the pace of service seems to coincide with the temp! i.e. High temps and humidty = slow service followed by long siestas!

                                                1. re: Pablo

                                                  I guess I may have pointed this our before, but the resorts we stayed in were a Relais et Chateau and a St. Regis. And many of the complaints come from a Jean-Georges Vongrichten restaurant, which I was very excited to go to and had a terrible, terrible experience. See my other post for how HAPPY we were once we went off campus.

                                              2. well- that's just it. in a no tipping country there's no incentive to give better service.

                                                12 Replies
                                                1. re: excuse me miss

                                                  apparently you missed the point. those people are not focused on their tips. they are going to do their job the way they do their job - and the way they do their job is the way they live. it is relaxed, and to our eyes "sloppy". they have a different concept of time, and a different concept of what makes good service. and i am sure the minute the OP was out of the restaurant they were laughing at him and feeling sorry for the poor customer who was so uptight all the time

                                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                    You said exactly what I was thinking. We in the U.S. have been conditioned to rush through everything. Sometimes I think we all have ADD. Someone upthread mentioned the saying, "when in Rome do as the Romans." Well, why travel to other parts of the world if you're not going to experience the country fully.

                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                      I missed the point? are we not saying the same thing? or are you responding to the OP? i looked up french polynesia and this is what it said about tipping...

                                                      "And this is one part of the world where you do not tip - Polynesian hospitality simply doesn’t allow it." http://www.gotahiti.com/frenchpolynes...

                                                      so if there's no concept of tipping- meaning the employees make the same amount of money no matter what- the goodness of service would be more dependent on things like working environment- like in retail. in north america there are plenty of horrible places to work- but the servers might still be motivated to give good service because it- ideally- means more money.
                                                      i've heard of places that have autogratuities- even there the servers would be inclined to get as many things on the bill as possible.

                                                      the OP mentioned the staff would forget alot of things. i think we'd all agree the very basic of good service is giving someone what they ask for. unless the OP is just- as she stated- used to the ASAPness of american service and misinterpreted their laid-backness for indifference.

                                                      1. re: excuse me miss

                                                        emm... no, I was refering to your reply. And you still seem to be missing the point. The tip or lack of a tip is not a material concern. And if you offered them 20% more to do a better job, they would just laugh it off as a silly idea. The idea that you might be in a hurry, or want better coffee, or have your table cleaned off before you sat down just isnt in the equation. And more money isn't what they are looking for. They don't "improve" their service, because there is nothing to improve upon. it is what it is. enjoy it. (not enjoy it or go someplace else).

                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                          ok, now you've really lost me then. what is it i'm missing?

                                                          so...what motivates service staff in that country to do a good job? what would make them do a better job? anything? nothing? why else do they work if not to make money?

                                                          1. re: excuse me miss

                                                            It is often difficult to understand other cultures unless one has lived it or experienced it. I was blessed to grow up with two different cultures. What KMan is trying to explain is that there is no motivation. It is as it is. They are doing a fine job in thier eyes, maybe not in yours or others, but in that culture, it is just how it is. People do not work just to make money. Many people work b/c they enjoy working. Some work to make money, just enough money to have a comfortable and enjoyable life. They may not be looking, like many Americans do, for the next opportunity or the next pay raise, it's not about all the toys, but just living life. I hope that helps you a bit.

                                                            1. re: excuse me miss

                                                              The point you are missing is that what you define as a good job is not what people in other countries define as a good job. Here in the US in a restaurant good service is very, very often associated with rushed service to turn the table as soon as possible (even in very high-end restaurants). In many other countries good service means to let people get the time to enjoy their meal as slow as they want. I would even argue the other way around than you do: In the US service staff is doing often a bad job by rushing even though they have an incentive (tip) to do a better job whereas in many other countries very often serivce staff is doing a much better job even without any incentive.

                                                              1. re: excuse me miss

                                                                I agree with justagthing above.

                                                                There is no such thing as doing a better job. They do their job. End of story.

                                                                It's really nice if they have some good interaction with the visitors (I'm intentionally not using the word customer), it's all about people (something corporate America keeps missing the mark on), and they have a good time talking story with their co-workers.

                                                                You and I may not think they are doing their job well, we might even question they are doing their job at all, but those are our values.

                                                                I am not saying they are lazy. If they were lazy, they wouldn't be working period.

                                                                It's a real different mind set, hard to explain - hard to understand unless you have really been immersed in it for a while. And I am neither defending nor attacking it. Just trying to help explain it.

                                                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                  Good explanation. And, from their view, if they visited Bennigans in America, they'd think we were hyped up caffeinated energizer bunnies and why couldn't we slow down and let them enjoy their meal out w/out rushing.

                                                        2. re: excuse me miss

                                                          Also keep in mind their clients are not all Americans, or all tippers. So even if they got interested in hustling for better tips (and I'm not saying they should), it wouldn't always pay off for them. Even if they got really specific and hustled only for Americans, not wasting their efforts on Aussies or Brits who don't have a tipping custom, there would be plenty of people who took it for granted, or just weren't good tippers, or who would have tipped 15% anyway because they are good tippers by default. So I can see how the service would default to the local custom/vibe. I might even argue that it wouldn't make that much difference to their average income.

                                                          1. re: julesrules

                                                            Also do we know that in this setting the tips are in fact going to the server...

                                                            1. re: julesrules

                                                              julietg, I hear you! While you may have gone on a tangent comparing your own training as a server vis-a-vis the values espoused by North American consumers, aside from all of that relative irrelevance, it's going too far to worry that you are behaving as an "ugly American" when fingers are in your taro and second drink orders are being ignored, thus depleting you of the experience that you are paying for. This experience points up the socioeconomic and values differential between vastly different cultures, and yours is a normal reaction. Since you were paying the high prices demanded by a capitalist establishment, you expected that the rudiments of value concurrent with those prices would be delivered, and by your report they were not. You are justified in being disappointed. The problem here lies not with the lackadaisical servers who are only behaving according to their own norms and values, but with the greedy profiteers who take the money and run without ensuring value. They've highjacked a system without fully integrating its parts. Those servers are likely grossly underpaid given the context in which they are working, and have no incentive to offer good service. With this in mind, when dining at a supposed high-end/resort establishment in a country in which the locals are being sucked into the tourist industry and deprived of their traditional sustenance, it's a good idea to tip in cash, and even to tip in advance! When you ask for that second drink, slide 'em a dollar bill. This has worked for me.

                                                          2. The lack of pre-bussing anywhere drives me crazy...

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: therealbigtasty

                                                              And yet, there was a very long thread recently about fine dining etiquette which stated very clearly that all dishes must remain on the table until everyone is done eating. I prefer pre-bussing too.

                                                              1. re: mojoeater

                                                                When my daughter worked one summer as a waitress in Oxford, England, she ended up waiting on all the Americans because no one else wanted to (we're too demanding- sending things back, asking for mustard, etc) The first night, she cleared away the plates of two people in a party who had finished. The manager yelled at her, telling her not to take any plates away until everyone was finished. She told him that these were Americans and she knew what they expected. She also brought in her own ice for her customers because the restaurant didn't have any! She always had the best tips at the end of the night, of course, because Americans tip more than Europeans, but that didn't make the other servers any more willing to take on customers from the U.S. !

                                                            2. If you think Greek time and Hawaiian time are bad, Brazil time is worse. My son got married in Brazil and the church was empty at 7 when the wedding was supposed to start. Everyone showed up at 8. Even the tv shows do not start on time. Good friends who are Brazilian met us for lunch one hour late and a lunch invitation at in laws house for 1 pm - food was served at 5 pm. Drove me nuts!

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: emilief

                                                                We were invited for an 8pm Thanksgiving dinner in the Dominican Republic. Dinner was served at 12:15 am. Need I say more? My one of my sister-in-law's brothers arrived with his wife and young (ie, under 10) children at 11pm. The only time I have ever eaten Thanksgiving dinner on a Friday.

                                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                                  my mother's family is American, 3rd generation. and every time we have a holiday the family arrives at least 2 hours after the stated time, and we eat at least 5-6 hours after they have arrived. it's just always been that way, I don't understand why people would want to rush to eating because after eating a lot, everyone is ready for bed.

                                                              2. We have been to Spain many times. One time we went to a restaurant famous for its paella--so much so that you have to call in advance and tell them what you want, which we did. We arrived and waited. And waited. Nearly 1 1/2 hours later, our preordered paella arrived. Now, back home in the U.S., I would've complained, walked out, not tip, etc. But as our friends in Spain told us, that's how it is. And that's that. In India, a bellboy waited outside of our hotel room for my husband to come up from the lobby so he can get his tip for bringing up our bags (I didn't have anything on me). In China, no one waited on line, which I actually found refreshing and ended up jostling and pushing with the best of them--no one stared at me or gave me a dirty look. When you visit a country, don't pack your preconceived notions of how things "should" be. The rules of what's "polite," or "right," or considered "etiquette" in your own home don't always apply once you leave it. Be open to new experiences, especially cultural ones. Sometimes, they'll make you that much more grateful of the place you call home.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: gloriousfood

                                                                  I certainly agree with this and the meals we have had in Germany tend to be on the very leisurely side. They will let you sit all evening uninterupted if you wish to slowly enjoy your meal. This can cause a challenge when you are finally ready for your check and need to tell your server. We had this conversation with our German host one night and asked him how to get our servers attention (this was after much drinking). We showed him the American way (or our way anyway) of politely waving or indicating to show that we are ready for the check. Not finger snapping or anything like; just a discrete raising of the hand. Our German host was horrified. He said no German would ever wave or raise the hand like that. He said that it is much better to just get up from the table and that sends a signal to the server that you are done. I guess he was afraid he was going to have a table of drunk Americans flapping like crazy to get the servers attention if he didn't intervene!

                                                                2. Just a difference in culture I am guessing. As Hawaiian would say, island time is different from mainland time.

                                                                  1. In my experience... the U.S. generally has better average service levels than any country I have been to. The one positive trade off... for having worse average food than most countries I've been to. And yes I would credit the American corporation to a large degree.... for both.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                      howdy eat,

                                                                      i have to respectfully disagree, my take is that it's really easy to find a decent meal in nyc vis a vis london, paris, wherever. my take is that the food in manhattan will be well prepared and favorably priced. just do your homework.

                                                                      don't get me wrong, i still insisist on spending serious time in euorpe and asia every year. just don't like to hear folk running down the skills we have in north america.

                                                                      1. re: steve h.

                                                                        Manhattan is a bit better than most parts of the country BUT... your average meals are still prepared using institutional ingredients with lots of line cooking, steam tables & last minute warming up / salamandering etc., That average is worst than other places around the world.

                                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                          steam tables and re-heating i would say are ubiquitous, it just depends on quality and age of the food as to whether this is a problem

                                                                    2. once on a family trip in the british virgin islands we stopped at a tiny island to get some food from a little local place - think beach shack style. my brother ordered a mixed drink and the waitress/chef told him to get his butt behind the bar and mix it himself. we were a little surprised but she told us what was in it so he tried his best! made for some great pictures and good laughs.

                                                                      1. So... looks like we had a bunch of different tangents. I totally agree with the "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" thing as well as the laid back service depending on where you are - I'm okay with both when I'm travelling and don't associate it with bad service... HOWEVER, in Julie's case, she was paying for high priced dining and should have at least received basic service, not finger in her food.

                                                                        I have to say that waiting for the bill and then getting the change or the c/c back is usually the worst part. I've been known to ask for the bill in the middle of the meal so that I'd get it 15 minutes later when I'm done with the meal (I'm eating w/my DH and DD - I don't need to linger after I'm done eating).