Et encore more reminiscences of La Belle France
Work. I’ve had to visit Paris many times through my work. Conferences, partners get togethers, client meetings and marketing trips, one football tour with the office eleven and the final meeting in 1999 when we put the finishing touches to a merger with a large German law firm that made our firm truly international. I ate well, courtesy of my French colleagues choices;, I smirked at the ostentation of my French partners’ offices – all ormolu and opulence – and the need for self aggrandisement; I laughed fit to bust in the company of one wondrous German partner, when we discovered our mutual and deep endless love for Monty Python; and I vomited copiously into the Seine after I discovered my allergy to mussels and cockles extended to snails.
One evening, while staying in Montparnasse (think Croydon without the chic) we found a sea food restaurant. It was recommended by someone – a rival lawyer perhaps – for the size of the platters which came on huge circular plates that were set on a stalk, sort of looming over the table. Half way through, one British colleague disappeared for a comfort break.
Pausing momentarily, this would have been just before the Millennium as we were all carrying office supplied Blackberries – do they still exist or are they once again a delicious soft fruit? The head of admin had made it clear that the consequences for losing same would be dire.
After several minutes a waiter came to out table. ‘Messieurs,’ yep we weren’t overwhelmed with female partners, ‘your colleague needs your assistance.’
I was nearest so stood and headed for the back followed by one of my French colleagues. We found our colleague peering out of the toilet door. He looked less than excited by life.
‘Disaster!’ He wasn’t known for his moderation. ‘I’ve lost my blackberry.’
Cue sharp intake of breath from me, but my French colleague, not one to worry over much with rules or the edicts of administrators, asked, ‘how?’
A fair point given he was in the toilet.
He stood back and pointed. It was one of ‘those’ toilets. Two footprints and a yawning chasm. While it didn’t take much imagination to work out where the blackberry was now, how he had managed to ‘lose’ it there did make us wonder. Balancing over these one hole wonders is tricky enough for the non indigenous person; texting while in mid hover assumed a confidence that even a yoga guru would struggle to achieve.
The three of us looked at each other. The two Brits wondered if the other would face up to the administrator’s approbation but the French man was cut from a different cloth. Scowling he spun on his heels and headed for the maitre d’. An exchange took place that could only take place between two Frenchmen who instinctively understood the Revolution had taken place just so these sorts of exchanges could happen. A significant number of shrugs and epithets later, the two men reached an understanding, viz (1) they were both right (2) the English are useless but (3) the honour of France required the retrieval of the blackberry.
Still huffing, the maitre d’ passed the instruction down the line until a very irritated, but evidently junior waiter appeared, clutching tongs. He went fishing with an unexpectedly practiced hand. Soon enough the offending, and by now offensive, handset surfaced. A short debate followed on the merits of washing same (yes) and my colleague was handed a foil-wrapped takeaway of the sort he hoped never to receive again.
We returned to our table. Our colleagues laughed at the fix and a lot of banter ensued, but I’d lost my appetite. The reason wasn’t the smell on retrieval or where said blackberry had been. No, it was the fact that by my plate sat an identical set of tongs to those recently used and which I was expected to utilise in taking food from the platter. Surely they’d use ‘special’ tongs for bog-diving? I glanced at the waiters hovering on the edge of boredom. Were they watching us, about to share a private joke? Were any of us the proud holders of special tongs?
They were French and we were British. I held off until the creme brulee came.