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The dreaded English-speaking room

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It happened again tonight.

I headed to L'Ardoise for what I hoped would be a terrific dinner. I didn't have a reservation, but they had room for me downstairs. Would that be all right? Sure!

Then I got downstairs and realized that the two tables (there was plenty of room), one a couple, the other a group of 6 or 8 (I'm not sure which) were talking in English. Then i was handed a menu. In English.

Sorry, but that did it. I left.

This happened to me once before a few years ago at Allard. I had made reservations for our family of five and when we arrived we were promptly ushered past other diners to a room in the back where English was all that was heard.

Contrast this to my experience last night. I went to Auberge Pyrenees Cevennes, a charming place in the 11th, which I shall cover in a separate post. They knew I was an American, I knew they knew I was an American, but we conversed in French, I ordered from the French menu, and French was all I heard. And the meal was fantastic.

What about you? What do you think of automatically being handed a menu in English and being sent to...the English-speaking room?

  1. I was one of 3 dreaded English speakers who were asked to LEAVE a Paris restaurant, because only 2 of us ordered dinner, the 3rd ordered an app. because we had had a late lunch. Even when our third said no problem, he would order dinner, we were hustled out of the restaurant.
    I'm hopeful that my final goodby to France on our way to Switzerland will hasten the rusting and eventual collapse of the Eiffel tower by a day or so.

    1. I think it's not a big deal. I find the posts on these boards, written in English, and that complain about restaurants covered here being full of English speakers very odd.

      I've been living here for longer than I care to consider, and live, work and socialise in French, but there are waiters, bar staff, but also colleagues, beggars, cleaning ladies, telephone sales people...who insist on trying to speak to me in English. While some of the above want to earn an extra buck, I like to think most are just trying to be accomodating, or polite.

      When I'm abroad, and especially when I don't have a complete grasp of the geography and lingo, I think it's pointless to pretend to be from the place and I embrace the tourist statute - menus written in Engish n'all.

      8 Replies
      1. re: vielleanglaise

        Why odd? It is a real phenomena in Paris, when I first arrived I was often placed in the "English" section, but after a few months I got wise to this and was able to negotiate my way into the French section, and I use the word negotiate deliberately as it often was a case of negotiation. Over time it became easier to avoid the English section (asking for the smoking section usually worked) and I suspect the long time Paris residents on this board now unconsciously negotiate this hurdle, possibly because they no longer frequent the main culprits.

        Is it a problem? As some have said you are getting the same food. But food is only part of what makes a great meal. In my experience the English section usually has worse service, the staff often have low expectations of you as a diner i.e. as a tourist you know little of French, food wine and culture and thus they offer safe recommendations or don't take the trouble to form a relationship with you.

        The other problem is the fellow diners (and this may be controversial) as many are tourists with only a peripheral interest in food and often little appreciation of dining culture ect. We (on this board) are different, we travel for food, food is important to us, the dining experience is special. Thus we want to enjoy this experience with others who will also experience this. To be frank this is more likely to be a local than a tourist, because a tourist has to eat out, a local chooses to.

        The "English room" is more pronounced in Paris than many other cities because of the volume of tourists. But you can find it in many, many other cities which have large numbers of tourists, and like Paris those are generally not the best places to be seated.

        1. re: PhilD

          "Why odd?" If you have 100's of posts on a restuarant on english speaking chowhound about a restaurant, then it's odd to be surprised to find english speaking clients flocking there, and the restaurant catering linguistically for this clentele. They'd be stupid not too.

          The problem with a crappy restaurant where they have menus in English, or staff who speak in English is the crappy food, not the menus.

          While I suppose It's possible to "go local" when living in a foreign country, it's more difficult to avoid looking, being treated as a tourist....when one's a tourist. On a recent visit to Seville I'm pretty sure that the locals knew I was a tourist. A polite tourist, I hope, who stuggled with his "gracias" "mas vino tinto" and "donde esta la Alahambras" but a tourist nevertheless who when his terrible Spanish wouldn't do would slip into Italian, French or English.

          This post reminds me of Forster's A Room with a View, and Charlotte Bartlett who rails against "Baedeker tourists" as she searches for "authenticiy"

          1. re: vielleanglaise

            "who when his terrible Spanish wouldn't do would slip into Italian, French or English" my all time favorite memory in Florence was when I needlessly slipped into French - the waitress was so nice and teasing.saying in English "you are in Italy now not France" and approving when I used eo vorrae instead. she was cool. and Spain? i could never grasp the Castile lisp (Mom once asked for the bathroom and was served a beer HA!)

            1. re: vielleanglaise

              I agree with you, vieilleanglaise. I mean, it's not odd given the chowhound craving for an 'authentic' or 'non-tourist' existence/experience but it is odd that all the English-speakers resent hearing so much English given that the majority of restaurants sought and visited by said hounds are those special occasion/destination restaurants that are more likely to be filled with gastronomic tourists than actual people who have to pay Parisian rents/housing costs and eat at home, especially on Sunday night.

              That said, it can be annoying if one is looking for the opportunity to practise language skills, but that's easily done by going to places where people will chat-- or by being a woman at which point a drageur will accommodate the need for conversation.

              I am puzzled as to why the OP left if this was a restaurant he really wanted to try. I agree that as annoying as it might be, the waiter was trying to be accommodating. I also agree that if the perceived English language ghetto annoyed, the OP could have asked in French for another menu and to be moved to a more appealing spot.

              1. re: vielleanglaise

                You need to differentiate between the "crappy restaurant where they have menus in English, or staff who speak in English is the crappy food, not the menus" and "the good restaurants that still have an apartheid policy". These still exist. I agree that it is a case of buyer beware in the former but it irritating in the latter and can be a frustrating issue.

                Is it an issue they are English speaking or is that a proxy measure for the other things? In my experience many of these areas are populated by ignorant (of food) tourists, often with surly teenagers who whinge about the foreign food. IMO Chowhounds wish to avoid this and enjoy their meals.

                Many of the comments about this not being an issue come from Chowhounds who are Paris residents or spend a lot of time there. The good news for you is that you now have a subtle understanding of how things work, thus you unconsciously avoid the "English" room (you know where to go and what to book).

                On the surface your comment about "100's of posts on a restaurant on english speaking Chowhound about a restaurant, then it's odd to be surprised to find english speaking clients flocking there, and the restaurant catering linguistically for this clientele. They'd be stupid not too" has a lot of truth to it, the restaurant recommendations are getting more and more homogeneous and they are tending towards the standards you will find in standard guidebooks rather than a cutting edge food site.

                I disagree about the tourist comment, I firmly believe there are different types who get different treatments. Someone knowledgeable about food options who has researched where to go (via this board) is in a different class from the masses and will probably avoid most of the worst aspects of it. I pretty confident I did when I was last in Seville. And whilst my Spanish is dire I can navigate a menu and spot a good place to eat - nearly all exclusively Spanish (even the El Bulli hotel on our visit). But Paris is more tricky, the volume of tourists make it so, and thus advice on restaurants with the "English" room is gratefully received in order to avoid them.

                1. re: PhilD

                  If you are thinking that L'Ardoise is a restaurant that segregates its clientele by language I would consider the fact that the OP was there on a Sunday evening which is traditionally an evening where only the tourist dine out. He hasn't said that the main floor dining room was half empty which it could have been while they wait for the people who reserved tables to arrive. I would hate for a restaurant to get a reputation like that on so few facts and you to miss a good meal.

                  1. re: AGM_Cape_Cod

                    I've only been to l'Ardoise once (was closest option to where I was working at the time) and every single person in the room -- this was the main room -- was American or British, with the exception of one family that was Dutch. The food was fine but it was a weird experience.

                  2. re: PhilD

                    Phild- I find both of your posts very well observed and stated, based upon my own experiences. I am a bit surprised that some of the posters seem to be taking an opposite stance, rather than perhaps seeing this in shades of grey. Or perhaps they are folks who can argue either side of the issue and simply went one direction rather than the other this time.

                    In my experience, it's not always an "English" room, rather a less desirable dining location where non-regulars are seated first on a busy night. If I haven't reserved in advance and am offered a table in another room, I always want to see the space and table before agreeing to be seated because where I am seated does affect my dining experience. I do this everywhere, not just in France.

                    Even on a English-written board, I am surprised that others are surprised that having studied France and French for years, I might want to speak French when in France. If I am dining in a group with English speakers, then it usually makes sense to interact with the server(s) in English. If there are French and English menus, and increasingly there are, I always want the French menu because as others have noted, the descriptions can range from too brief to amusingly inaccurate.

            2. As long as you are getting the same food as the French speaking clientele, what is the problem?
              Why not ask the French waiter in French to bring you a menu in French?

              3 Replies
              1. re: DavidT

                You seem blithely unaware of the very American precept: Separate but Equal is No Good.

                There is something called The Tipping Point.

                I know some Parisians who begin to avoid places where there are too many Americans. If you live in Paris, maybe you've heard of people like that as well. Once a place gets labeled as such, there may be a tipping point if the Parisians stop going altogether. That is the point where the clientele is no longer French, no longer knowledgeable about the food, and the food choice and the experience suffers.

                The question is: how do you know that hasn't already happened at the place you're eating if all you hear is English?

                I don't like or agree with Separate but Equal. And I don't like the idea of ghettos. Sure it leads to things more serious than having a bad meal, but still ....it's not an encouraging sign.

                1. re: Steve

                  Regarding the tipping point. Last time at L'Ami Louis in October, there were more English speakers than French, first time that has happened. Much to my discredit, l was not happy at all. Consider this my favorite restaurant anywhere and the loud English made it less a fulfilling experience. Food was just as great though.

                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                    Well, you are in a very good position to know if the quality of the food is being maintained!

              2. I don't remember going to a resto that has an English menu.
                If I were handed one, I probably would laugh and ask for the French menu. I don't see what is so humiliating.
                Hey, maybe the trick is not to go to a resto with an English menu...
                As for the mythical English-speaking room, it is not something that I notice. If I were to banish everyone who speaks my languages, the resto would be empty and the chef would hate me and where would I be then.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Parigi

                  If I am handed the English menu in any country I always ask for the "native" language one to go with it. Sometimes things just don't translate properly.

                  Has anyone tried using google translate on some of the 3 star restaurant menus. It is hilarious. Just in case anyone needs a good laugh or is trying to procrastinate like I do often.

                  I have never had a bad experience in Paris, I do know that being able to speak a language does inherently give one benefits. In Italy I am able to converse with waiters easily, I definitely get "more in depth" treatment (I'm trying to refrain from using the word "better"). I can say "I want what he/she is having it looks fabulous, tell me all about it"

                  Its not the Parisian waiter's fault I never learned French :)

                  1. re: Parigi

                    I always find posters who don't want to hear English spoken in a restaurant except their own very entertaining.
                    Maybe some of them believe they're put in the English section when actually the whole restaurant is just one big English section. Some evenings it is the case at Chez Dumonet for instance.

                  2. I don't get why you think this was rude. It sounds as if they were trying to put you at ease you by putting you in a room with your fellow countrypeople. I think that was considerate. Giving you a menu you were guaranteed to understand completely was also considerate. It doesn't necessarily mean that you'd get inferior food. I'm pretty sure it would have come from the same kitchen.

                    I do get that some people travel to experience a local flavor, but many people, of all nationalities, just want to feel comfortable wherever they are. Unless those resto people were rude to you, I'd give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they were really trying to give you an experience that would please you.

                    1. Nah, I don't take it personally. I speak some French, therefore, I just ask for the menu in French because it is usually better in describing the dishes. If I am in Germany, I welcome the English menu and a waiter that speak some English. Same for about 90% of the world where I don't speak the language. I never want to let something as such to ruin an otherwise nice evening.

                      1. I have been to L'Ardoise and always been seated in the basement room. I don't take it personally. The upstairs room is always packed so that is where they put us. Sometimes there are other English speaking people, sometimes French or German or Italian.

                        You went on a Sunday evening without a reservation. That is an evening where I find most of the other diners are tourist like me. I guess the French are dining at home with their families.
                        Did you check to see if all the people on the main floor were speaking English? Probably most of them were.

                        The English menu is a new thing. I have only been given one once and I returned it for a French menu. I have been asked if I wanted an English menu to which I always reply "no, I will not learn if I don't try". No problem.

                        I am sorry you left without dinner. We have always had excellent meals at L'Ardoise.

                        1. I thought the front room at Allard was the English room...

                          1. Last night at Gagnaire, the captain addressed us in English when we walked in, and gave us English and French menus. While my French skills are indeed brutal, my menu French skills are half decent, so it was nice to have both menus to see the translation subtleties.

                            1. I appreciate all of the thoughtful comments. Perhaps I was too hasty in leaving, but I do know my way around a French menu. Maybe I should have asked for one and that would have been that. But memories of that night at Allard came back to me and ushered me back up those stairs. Perhaps a rose by any other name and all that, but I still maintain that I would rather have île flottante than floating island!

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Jeffo405

                                Jeffo405- I haven't been to L'Ardoise that I can remember, but reading through various reviews on the web, I think you made the right choice. That downstairs room has quite a number of unhappy mentions, and food reviews range from great to horrible.

                                I think it makes sense that you left when you did. It's hard to have a good experience after that start. Where did you end up that night?

                                1. re: souvenir

                                  I've eaten at Ardoise several times, sometimes seated in the ground floor, other times the downstair. I've have never noticed much difference in terms of service or the quality of the food. Like many of the popular bistros where tables are turned and the kitchen trying to keep up, both can be hit or miss. As for the rooms, both are bland and will not win any interior design awards, therefore, it doesn't seem to be that important to me. From what I've observed, downstair is for the overflow where I've heard French spoken. As for leaving the restaurant without eating, there is no really right or wrong. If one doesn't feel that one will have a good time, why stay.

                                  1. re: PBSF

                                    Your comments provide great perspective for the variation in reviews about L'Ardoise (and probably most popular bistros).

                                  2. re: souvenir

                                    souvenir - I ended up at a Chinese place not far from L'Ardoise. The dinner and the service were excellent!

                                    1. re: Jeffo405

                                      Thanks for the rest of the story. I'm glad you ended up with a good dining experience!

                                2. I would have politely asked en francais for the French menu and asked if there were any daily specials not on the menu. Just leaving seems a bit rude.

                                  As you had no reservations, maybe all the tables in the non-tourist room were reserved?

                                  In non-French speaking countries, I'm glad for an English menu and english-speaking waiters.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Cary

                                    I know my way around a French menu, though I wouldn't be able to carry on a long conversation with the waiter. I actually spent a week in the kitchen at Guy Savoy many years ago. Now THAT's a place that knows how to make diners feel comfortable. Perhaps it was an over-reaction to up and leave, but the combination of the English menu and the English speakers just wasn't what I wanted my dinner experience to be - and quite a contrast to other excellent dinners at other restaurants where French was all that was spoken, even by the servers (Chez Paul comes to mind).

                                    1. re: Jeffo405

                                      Guy Savoy is a three star restaurant; they never want a diner to be 'uncomfortable'. It does have an English menu though they don't present it unless requested. And Hubert speaks excellent English with amazing speed. English is a very popular language there, so is Japanese, German and I've even heard Chinese and some French.

                                      1. re: PBSF

                                        It had "only" two stars when I was there - and I'm sure no one ever felt uncomfortable. When my wife and I dined there, a couple of years before my "stage," the waiter practically walked her right into the ladies' room!

                                        1. re: Jeffo405

                                          That WAS many years ago. Probably when he first moved into the r. Troyon address. The restrooms are not easy to find, way in the back, pass the maze of small dining rooms.

                                        2. re: PBSF

                                          Hubert speaks better English than l do.

                                    2. I've never been to l'Ardoise, but maybe the server working the downstairs room is the only speaking english ? And therefore they automatically put english speaking customers downstairs to assure them a better evening with a server understanding them ?

                                      I get your idea of an authentic french meal, with french server and all... but when I speak to foreign persons (just did with a polish woman recently), one thing that comes up rather often about France is how nobody makes an effort to speak english. So it seems that what you have considered to being ghetto-ised is what other (non-Hounds) tourists would have considered to be "finally a place where they speak english and give me an english menu !".

                                      10 Replies
                                      1. re: Rio Yeti

                                        I agree - I imagine that if there are places where English speakers are deliberately seated in the same area of a restaurant, it is probably so that they can allocate waiting staff who can speak good English to those tables.

                                        1. re: Theresa

                                          This could be, but I asked if they had a table for one in French...(admittedly, my accent was probably a bit off!)

                                          1. re: Jeffo405

                                            I'm sure many people ask for their tables in French, but need help with translating the menu etc

                                            1. re: Jeffo405

                                              M.E. took a Minor in French and has never had a problem anywhere in France, except for Paris. If you want to have some fun, just ask locals from Lyon and Nice how they feel about Parisians. We are not alone.

                                              1. re: Oakglen

                                                I don't even remember ever spending any time expounding on how I feel about the Lyonnais and Niçois. So envioius when others have so much free time.

                                            2. re: Theresa

                                              Theresa - I often hear that, but why are the "English rooms" always the worst tables, maybe it is just coincidence. That aside, as I said before the English speaking room is more a proxy for being lumped in with the tourists, those with the whinging teenagers and the loud order for a bottle of Chateau Briand.

                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                :o)

                                              2. re: Theresa

                                                Very unlikely. More likely, there is not so much an English-speaking section, technically speaking, as there is a section they keep for the regulars.

                                                1. re: Ptipois

                                                  I can see that could be the case - especially if it seems that the non-French tables are the less popular ones ...

                                                  1. re: Theresa

                                                    And the so-called "English sections" have blossomed since the rise of the Internet food communication phenomenon.

                                                    So it makes sense that as more foreigners (mostly anglophones) have been finding Parisian bistrots that were previously locals-only, the seating has polarized into definite categories: the regulars that the restaurant couldn't afford to disappoint (and whom they assume would be incommodated by a loud English brouhaha in what was formerly their little best-kept secret), the hip journalists and famous bloggers who also have blossomed at the same time and for the same reasons (these are always sat together too), and, well... whatever's left.

                                                    Since few people aside from these categories can afford to eat at restaurants, let alone bistrots, you have that situation which IMO is not anti-anglophone segregation strictly speaking.

                                            3. I have lived in France for thirty years yet still speak with a recognizably Anglophone accent (what are you going to do?) When I dine with my French-born son in Paris, I usually ask him to make the reservation for a "French-sounding" last name (not ours). If I make the reservation in our own absurdly Anglo-Saxony name--the double whammy!-- it has happened that we find ourselves at what we laughingly refer to as "la table accent" (near the toilets, in the back corner, by the windy entrance, etc.) At which point, we politely ask for a better table, and there's no problem. Fairly rare but it does occasionally occur. So, even if you speak very good French, versions of what you describe can take place. An idea: have the hotel make a reservation for you and ask them to insist on something like a table downstairs or by the window or whatever makes sense in that particular restaurant as a way to prevent Siberian exile from occuring.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: johnmarseille

                                                But aren't table placing and "special" treatment for non francophones different phenomona?

                                                Restaurants give good tables to regular customers. They also use certain tables for PR or marketing purposes, giving them to people that they think will reflect well upon the establishment, or who will attract other customers. The most blatant example of this is at the Pied de Cochon where they place the hipster night owls who conform to the restaurants bohemian reputation near the windows in the entrance in order to entice a more pedestrian clientele.

                                                If you're a pretty model, famous, or you "look good", I'd guess you'd get a great table even if you're a tourist and have no French.

                                                1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                  I agree this is often restaurant practice the world over, yet I know of few other countries/cities which seem to segregate the clientele in such an obvious way. There are many reasons why the restaurants do it in Paris, is no doubt the volume of English speaking tourists is one of the main ones. However, it is still good to try and avoid them, after all I also don't like places that obviously reserve their best tables for regulars and regulars. IMO better restaurants tend to use a first come best seated approach

                                                  1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                    "If you're a pretty model, famous, or you "look good", I'd guess you'd get a great table even if you're a tourist and have no French."

                                                    Oh thank God. This must be why I always get such great tables.

                                                2. Although some of this has been covered, I have to weigh in.

                                                  I spent 12 years studying the French langauge, majored in French literatue and spent a year at th Sorbonne. I go to France expressly to be imersed in the langauge and culture, as well as to dine well. Yet, I once stayed in a Parisian hotel where the French desk clerk addressed me exclusively in English, to which I replied exclusively in French. For a week. My French was considerably better than his English.

                                                  Such behavior isnot accomodation it is condescension.

                                                  As for menus - I like to collect bad translations. Two of my favorites are "jumped beef" for boeuf saute and "singed bananas" for bananes flambees.

                                                  I suspect a problem may be that if a restaurant is overrun by English speaking clientele, English speakers may actually avoid it. Witness Alexander Lobrano explaining why he deleted Allard from his list of best restaurants, "The food's still good at this old-time bistro in Saint Germain but hte incidence of Coke bottles on the tables . . . reveal that a tippingpoint has been reached. To wit, don't be surprised to run into soemone you know here - this is now an Americna bistro in Paris."

                                                  21 Replies
                                                  1. re: Junoesq

                                                    But the Paris Americans (most of them) want to come to IS an American city. If you want the "real" Paris of real Parisian, you get couscous and Chinese traiteurs and stuff most visiting Americans poo-pooh because they think they have the original in LA. If you want the sophisticated cheese shops and little bistrots with patina wood on the walls, you're heading to places whose clientele is 50% Americans, 50% French who studied in the US.

                                                    (as you know, 73% of all statistics are made up on the spot. To quote a senator "this statement was not intended to be factual")

                                                    It's the "onion soup" syndrome: no one in France eats onion soup. It's an American specialty.

                                                    1. re: souphie

                                                      Mae, Soup. We're content to eat where you eat. ;)

                                                      1. re: souphie

                                                        Amen to all that.
                                                        You get far more immersed in the language and culture by shopping at Franprix than at Barthélemy.

                                                        "Witness Alexander Lobrano explaining why he deleted Allard from his list of best restaurants, "The food's still good at this old-time bistro in Saint Germain but hte incidence of Coke bottles on the tables . . . reveal that a tippingpoint has been reached."
                                                        Thus, as usual, missing the point on what the city is really about. What a food reviewer is supposed to care about is whether the food is still good.

                                                        1. re: Ptipois

                                                          re: Ptipois. You and souphie are possibly the only French people on this thread. Ptipois' comment about just judging on the basis of the food is fine and all that, but maybe also a little out of touch? In fact, I frequently get the sense that there is a fundamental difference in the treatment you (and souphie) report, on an English-speaking board, as regulars (or just French people) in certain restaurants. Your dining experiences are likely more distanced from the negative or even just typical experiences a foreigner can easily have in non-Americanized restaurants in Paris. Experiences that would make one care about more than the food.

                                                          Witness the truly crazily good sounding meal at CAJ that was recently written about by Delucacheesemonger -- but where his dining companion, souphie, is evidently on such familiar terms with the chef that he is able to bring in his own meat. It is great to hear about such an awesome meal but not many of the rest of us will encounter the likes of it. This is frustratingly common to a number of the better blogs (ulterior epicure, chuck eats etc), which I love but which sometimes present us with meals that are either specially pre-ordered or preferentially treated. The experience is not exactly representative of what the average punter would encounter.

                                                          1. re: johannabanana

                                                            It seems to me that you're talking about two different things: the preferential treatment that restaurants accord to regulars - which happens everywhere - and "meal dropping", chummy banter between posters referring to themselves and shared meals which can be excluding and thus annoying...

                                                            As for: "Your dining experiences are likely more distanced from the negative or even just typical experiences a foreigner can easily have in non-Americanized restaurants in Paris". I don't think this preferential treatment has much to do with the posters lingo. Rather that they live here, know the ropes. Your dining experiences are likely more distanced from the negative or even just typical experiences that I bet a foreigner can have in a restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Worcester MA, or wherever you happen to live.

                                                            1. re: johannabanana

                                                              Johanna: While agreeing with you, particularly on the second paragraph of your post, I think you are referring to two distinctly different things. Or at least two things that I take care to keep separated from each other: describing the restaurant for the public (which includes me if I do my job right) and being able to spot an exceptional situation or exceptional treatment when I see one.

                                                              I am perfectly aware of the inherent craziness and, to be precise, of the exceptionality of a meal like Delucacheesemonger described (and I should be, I was there) but to me that's precisely that, an exceptional meal. Now this board is a place of passion, not of reviews in the professional sense of the term, so It's OK to describe that sort of meal, at the risk, as you wrote, of frustrating the other readers — but there's a greater risk: the risk that the report may be seen as a fair description of what the restaurant serves to the average customer. This problem exists not only here, it is actually at the core of restaurant reviewing as one of its most serious issues because it's the one that food journalists and famous bloggers are the least able, or willing, to address. Some of them seem not to be aware of it at all - or pretend they aren't.

                                                              I sometimes get special treatment and I have learned not to let that enter my methodology. To be fair, it is an indicator of the best the house can do, so it is information in its own right but one has to be crystal clear about what type of information it is and how one can use it. I am enough of an obscure character to dine perfectly unrecognized in most places and when that is not the case, first I enjoy the bounty, second I wouldn't dream of writing it up as the restaurant's daily routine. And even in this extreme (and rare for me) case there's enough opportunity to ogle into other people's plates and gather pertinent information from various sources to make sure you're being respectful of your readers.

                                                              So, in one word, there's Santa Claus dining and there's restaurant reviewing, and if all goes well the two remain unconnected. I keep them unconnected as far as I'm concerned.

                                                              As for my comment on the Coke bottles, it was not a judgmental but a professional comment. You may, as a diner, be personally disturbed by the number of Coke bottles you see on the tables of a Paris bistrot you like. But as a reviewer it is an irrelevant detail as long as the food on the plates is unchanged from its usual standard. You can mention it and that goes into the atmosphere/décor chapter, but it makes no sense to erase the restaurant from your top list for that reason.

                                                              It would not be so irrelevant if the food quality had sunk as well, but even then it would not be a proof of any causal connection between Coke bottles and food quality. It would only prove that the clientele counts many Americans, and besides I find it a little illogical that a food reviewer for the American press, whose job is informing his countrypeople about various Paris bistrots and restaurants, should resent the fact that more and more Americans go to the places he writes about...

                                                              1. re: Ptipois

                                                                Ptipois, I'm glad you try to keep that separation (I enjoy your impartial-seeming blog.) Delucacheesemonger's report only implicitly indicated that the CAJ meal was exceptional to the norm, not that he's obliged to say that the chef gave you guys such and such gratis etc.

                                                                As for my two paragraphs referring to two distinct points, I would argue that they overlap or that a French, food-blogging regular eating at a Paris restaurant might simply experience an exaggerated version of the treatment an actual French Parisian experiences.

                                                                Vieilleanglaise is right that the same scenario can be found in any country but I would argue that in Paris (as others seem to have found), the scenario is accentuated. I myself lived in Paris for two years, speak good French (but with an accent) and have experienced this in far worse ways in Paris than in New York, also a snooty city at times. (Including at CAJ, Parigi)

                                                                One thing I appreciate about this board is that the commenters typically seem way more savvy than on some other boards, unlikely to behave like a recent chowhounder who wrote about a meal at Le Bernardin, and the fact that they have had bad Parisian experiences supports my point, I think, that you just have to expect to occasionally be less well treated in Paris than you might elsewhere, however sophicated and informed you are.

                                                                1. re: Ptipois

                                                                  Ptipois, whilst I agree with much that you say, I don't buy the "coke bottle" argument. For me enjoyment of good food is contextual and I don't believe you can isolate the food from the environment. Enjoyment of food is a multi sensory experience thus context is very important. Eating great food in the wrong environment will diminish the experience. The great food could be a great burger, I maintain it will "taste" better in a grungy, edgy place with great rock and roll playing in the background versus being plated and served at Le Cinq. It may be the same burger but context adds or detracts a lot. So for me a good food review needs to consider all of these points and shouldn't simply review what is on the plate in isolation because that isn't how we experience food.

                                                                  So Lobrano uses the Coke bottle as a proxy for the English room, and I believe the English room is a proxy for a whole raft of issues that detract from the food. I take Mangeur's point about language comprehension but it is just the language or another proxy measure of volume of language. Often English speaking, non-foody, tourists (of any nationality ) can be very loud.....thus a major distraction and one that sub-optimises the food experience which will detract from good food.

                                                                  Ref: the "friend of the house" syndrome, clearly it has an impact and even if not a FOH then being a regular does make a difference. I used to go CAJ a lot and whilst I wasn't on first name terms wit the chef we were recognised and we definitely had a different experience to others. Generally this is declared on posts, but sometimes you need to join the dots, but I suspect it isn't as bad as the "groupthink" problem......a small group of people (friends) going to the same restaurants time and time again. Thus it is refreshing to see the rare break out from the norm i.e. the recent La Cantine du Troquet review.

                                                                  1. re: PhilD

                                                                    Read again, I did not say the Coke bottle argument should not be in the review, but that it should be part of the décor/atmosphere comment which though important is of secondary importance compared to the food. Any reviewer not following this hierarchy of values would be a strange one indeed.

                                                                    If you review a restaurant professionally, you just don't send it to the bin if the quality of the food is as high as ever, even if you don't like the new curtains or some people order what they shouldn't.

                                                                    Also he complains that there are too many Coke bottles on the tables, not that he has been confined to the English room. There is no evidence of an English-speaking room at Allard, at least from his description. If the place is as I remember it, it is almost entirely an English-speaking room. No Parisian I know ever goes to Allard anymore.

                                                                    Dumping it from a top list is, I believe, quite legitimate. But that's because the food is not very interesting, not because many people order Cokes.

                                                                2. re: johannabanana

                                                                  "Witness the truly crazily good sounding meal at CAJ that was recently written about by Delucacheesemonger -- but where his dining companion, souphie, is evidently on such familiar terms with the chef that he is able to bring in his own meat."

                                                                  Good example.
                                                                  In fact I have gone to CAJ with Soup and DCM, and I have gone without them, ordering the cheap prix-fixe menu in fact. I have always had an excellent dining experience there.
                                                                  Yes I ate better with Soup, because he ordered better. Sometimes he even brings in his private food.
                                                                  THe waitstaff did not treat me noticeably better when I was with Soup. Everyone has always been very nice with us. -- Ok, Jégo started kissing my hand after being introduced by Soup. That's another story.
                                                                  But my dining without Soup there has not shabby at all, far from it.

                                                                  1. re: johannabanana

                                                                    I have a relative who is a chef; close relative, good restaurant in a major city, regularly gets written up by the press etc.

                                                                    When I go I definitely get preferential treatment.
                                                                    I can ask for a taste of every appetizer on the menu and receive it. The chef who "never comes out of the kitchen", comes out to visit.

                                                                    One time I was acutely aware that the table next to me was getting "cranky" not because their food was any different than mine but because the their experience/treatment was different than mine.

                                                                    I finally leaned over and told them that I was related to the chef, never get to eat at the restaurant because I live far away and that it was a once a year type of occasion. As soon as they understood why I was being treated differently their smiles returned. They even got to enjoy some cute stories about the chef's eating habits as a toddler.

                                                                    I think it is the "difference" whether it be real or imagined that makes people feel so disgruntled and annoyed.

                                                                    I always try to remember when I am just an "average" client somewhere that it is actually natural (and really good business in some ways) to cater to the regulars.

                                                                    In terms of the language being spoken, I remember Europe in the days before the internet, yes I am old, and it was different. When you google where to eat in Paris you will get a certain list. It is what happens. Even in New York, if a "tourist" wanted my local favorites it would be a complex question to answer. I eat at some very casual places where the quality of my meal is excellent because it is affordable and in my neighborhood but might not qualify as "special" for a visitor.

                                                                    1. re: gowest

                                                                      Good story gowest although I'm not questioning how entitled Delucacheesemonger is to preferential treatment. I'm simply noting that such treatment, though entertaining to read about, won't necessarily be that relevant to others.

                                                                      1. re: gowest

                                                                        That neighborhood meal you enjoy so much might very well seem special to a visitor. Simple foods done so well are a rarity in the US.

                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                          And in France too.

                                                                          1. re: souphie

                                                                            I'm not so sure about that. The ubiquitous tomato salad and haricots verts served just about everywhere south of the Loire is mind-expanding compared to what we have in the US. the average plat du jour at a bar outdoes a lot of fine dining as well. And then once you get into some intense micro-regionalism, like a farcis maraichine, flamiche au maroilles, or a farcon savoyard, then the most humble of places can be a revelation.

                                                                            In the countryside in the US, fuhgeddaboudit. You're lucky they opened the can before they plopped it into the bowl. This is why visitors to France need to seek out the humble spots in addition to the regal. They may be surprised to find out they enjoy the former more.

                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                              This I agree with completely

                                                                          2. re: Steve

                                                                            I agree with your statement but you just don't find it very often here. Especially the "inexpensive" part.

                                                                            The one wine bar that truly met the definition above was taken over by new people, promptly ruined and then went out of business with in the year.

                                                                            I can list a slew of places to run out and get a decent simple meal but at most of them you will pay $100 - $125 a couple and that is only with a couple of glasses (not a bottle) of wine and maybe a shared desert. Not to mention that the food is most likely "ethnic". I think almost all food is ethnic in NYC :)

                                                                            In my neighborhood one is Mediterranean, a couple Italian, one specializes only in mussels, and I can think of only a burger place and a Peruvian chicken place that are less expensive (and those can have crazy waits). I don't know if a visitor would find them "delicious" or "authentic". If they had to take an expensive cab ride or a long subway trip I'm pretty sure they wouldn't think it was worth it.

                                                                            And pizza, if you like nyc pizza there are TONS of fabulous places in every style imaginable.

                                                                          3. re: gowest

                                                                            Things do change for a rarely 'privileged' diner. Wed evening went to L'Astrance with Uhockey. l will not review the meal as he does such an excellent job or reviewing, l will leave it to him. At a shrine as this one where you are paying very high prices, you would hope everyone is a 'FOC', but no, he noticed that some of the tables, there are only nine to begin with, were getting additional courses and others, including us, were not. Is this correct, who knows but we felt a bit on the out, and no it is not a good feeling.

                                                                      2. re: souphie

                                                                        I have to say twenty years ago when I first visited Paris I stayed with friends of my grandparents. A lovely older couple, "real Parisians" who set me loose on the city each day and who I ate dinner with each night.

                                                                        When I arrive they crammed me into the back of their porsche and bundled me off to their weekend home in Chartres. Even though they were happy to have me at my grandmother's request they were not going to miss their weekend in the country. Sunday we returned to Paris.

                                                                        We ate at home each night except one, and here is the funny part (re:Souphie's post) they took me out to one restaurant -- yes, you guessed it -- for couscous!! To this day still the best couscous I have ever eaten :)

                                                                        1. re: gowest

                                                                          Wonderful story.

                                                                        2. re: souphie

                                                                          Paris couscous is better than LA.

                                                                      3. Seriously, I have to agree about disliking being surrounded by Anglo speakers. I think it probably is because my French is so bad I can't tell if a French speaker is making a fool of himself at the top of his lungs. whereas the loud Anglo is in my face, leaving no doubt. :)). If I can't hear you. I couldn't 'care less what you're speaking.

                                                                        10 Replies
                                                                        1. re: mangeur

                                                                          You may hit on a truth.
                                                                          Jake Dear and I once discussed this. We suspected that this aversion had to do with our consciousness not being able to switch off our native tongue when we hear it.
                                                                          After living in France for, by now, most of my life, I still can switch off French conversations - in the metro for example - at will.
                                                                          Can't but can't abide loud conversation in my native tongue.

                                                                          1. re: Parigi

                                                                            Or to look at it another way; I have no doubt that at least half the crowd at Les Papilles are Anglo-speaking, but they are of the quiet sort, ;)

                                                                            1. re: Parigi

                                                                              I 100% agree - when we are in rural Languedoc, it's great hearing the village kids running up and down the street shouting and playing, but when an English family are on holiday there, and their kids are doing the same thing, I hate it. It's partly about not being able to switch off, as I can understand everything they are saying, but it also takes something away from the French/rural/mediterranean atmosphere.

                                                                              I think the same is true in restaurants when I am abroad. Of course I am English too, but hearing lots of English voices around me changes the atmosphere and makes me feel less like I am abroad. With French voices, even though I speak it fairly well, I can switch off and just hear foreign (in a good way !) chatter.

                                                                            2. re: mangeur

                                                                              What a generally thoughtful and well-articulated thread. It’s like a lively discussion at a virtual dinner party for about 15 or 20 -- and it reminds me why I enjoy this forum.

                                                                              Re the recent comments by mangeur, Parigi, and Theresa: Yup. And on top of that, there’s the second issue that mangeur also alludes to – some fellow English speakers are just too loud for our taste.

                                                                              I wish I were at DCM’s CLJ dinners the other day – issues of special treatment or not. – Jake

                                                                              1. re: Jake Dear

                                                                                JD, you bring a tranquil closure to a dialog to which I could have been less provocative.

                                                                                1. re: Jake Dear

                                                                                  I don't mind loud people in restaurants as long as people aren't screaming obscenities or racial slurs.

                                                                                  French and English speakers both like to whoop it up sometimes. It's a restaurant, not a funeral.

                                                                                  Also, I think French people love Coke and McDonalds as much as Americans. Both are better in France: those little glass bottles at cafes...

                                                                                  1. re: Busk

                                                                                    "Also, I think French people love Coke and McDonalds as much as Americans. Both are better in France: those little glass bottles at cafes..."

                                                                                    True about Coke. An overlooked fact is that some French people do order it at restaurants, even high-end ones. So the bottle of Coke does not necessarily mean you're in the English room, maybe you're in a restaurant with many patrons from advertising or communication agencies.

                                                                                    1. re: Busk

                                                                                      But also it IS dinner, not a sports bar or tailgate party.

                                                                                      1. re: mangeur

                                                                                        Or a CGT-led manif...

                                                                                      2. re: Busk

                                                                                        "Also, I think French people love Coke and McDonalds as much as Americans."

                                                                                        If not more... I mean at least in the USA it's part of the culture in a way, and few people question it. In France everybody is anti-McDo (a little less people is anti-Coke), and yet France is the second country in the world with most McDonalds per head.

                                                                                        I hate McDo, not because it's "malbouffe", not because it's not organic, but because I have changed from my youth taste, and the last times I went there I just frankly didn't like it. However I will not openly criticize fast-food, because I don't to be a part of the french hypocrisy around it...

                                                                                        But I'm getting a bit out of the thread's objective... so, to get back to it:
                                                                                        If you don't want to be in a restaurant with english tourists in Paris, your best bet is to go to a McDonald's ! (does that make sense ?) ;)

                                                                                  2. Lets put all the cards face up on the table - do the french still prefer to be distanced from Americans?

                                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Veggo

                                                                                      So no tranquil closure?

                                                                                      1. re: Veggo

                                                                                        I don't think they ever did.

                                                                                        1. re: Veggo

                                                                                          I'm french and I don't care if I'm eating at a restaurant with Americans around me... although when I am in Spain or the UK or the States, I do prefer if I never come across a fellow french speaker at a restaurant, or anywhere else for that matter, because in my naive little brain I want to experience the other country to the fullest without being reminded that I'm from somewhere else.

                                                                                          1. re: Rio Yeti

                                                                                            I think RY has hit on something that is at the heart of how I feel as an American when I find myself in a restaurant in France (or other foreign country) surrounded by other English speakers. When I'm traveling I want to feel that "I've gotten away" and am experiencing that country's culture. The only thing worse than being surrounded by lots of other Americans in a restaurant overseas, is to find yourself seated nexted to visitors from your hometown. It's happened to us twice -- once in Paris years ago and another time in Bellagio, Italy -- and both times there was a sense severe disappointment. Perhaps, for the same reason, I am less disappointed if the English speakers are from the UK than if they are fellow Americans.

                                                                                            Back to the "tipping point": I recall my 1st visit to Paris in the Spring of 1985, when the dollar was particularly strong and Paris was absolutely overrun with Americans. We made a call to La Tour D'Argent to see if it was possible to get a reservation. I believe that we spoke French in the conversation but certainly our accents would have given us away. They very kindly told us that they had alotted their quota of reservations to Americans and that if they gave a reservation to every American who wanted dine there, the place would cease to have the ambiance that people sought out. We were not offended at all because they were absolutely right. We wanted to experience France, not just the food.

                                                                                          2. re: Veggo

                                                                                            This is getting repetitive. Groundhog Day !

                                                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                                                              I would say that a starred restaurant is always expected to attract visitors from all over the world, so no cause for concern. But I am positive it would be problematic for many if their favorite hangout was discovered and then overrun by tourists. Fear the quality could suffer is very real.

                                                                                              Now, this could be true of anywhere, but I think the unique question of language/tourism in Paris intensifies the question.

                                                                                            2. Folks, this thread is veering off topic and becoming repetitive. We''re locking it.