Thursday, January 3, 2008

Lucky in USA

"Sorry to bother you, but any chance you have some Ketchup?"

These, apparently are words that Danes don't like...

You know the Danes...the people from Denmark...the ones that speak flawless English, have a very educated society, and love America...famous Danes you may know include Hans Christian Andersen, Pianist Victor Borge, and philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard...

So, my buddy Jeff, my beautiful Lady Friend Claire, and I were eating in this cool little cafe in Copenhagen last Friday. Nice lighting, hip crowd, and sweet locale all told us that this was going to be a good lunch...the food did not disappoint, but the service, well, let's just say in the US someone might have gotten fired...or punched in the nose.
There was a little inattentiveness, that happens...some sighing when we placed our order, understandable since Claire and I were sharing a meal and only wanted water...even some eye rolling when I changed my mind and asked for a Coke...but, when we asked for Ketchup, we apparently had crossed the line.

"Sorry to bother you, but any chance you have some Ketchup?"
A know the strong exhale through the nose.
The eye roll...parents of teenagers know this one well.
The head shake...side-to-side in disbelief.
The stomping off...much like a 4 year old told that she can't have cookies
All of those things happened...but the Ketchup did not appear.
Some eating continued. I finished my coke, Jeff finished his beer, the sunset...then the waiter ketchup.
Tried to get his attention, but to no avail. Clearly he is ignoring us. He passed by with someone else's order, then walked right by, back to the kitchen.
2 minutes later he comes back...not with a nice little ramekin full of ketchup...not a table size glass or plastic bottle...not even the squeeze bottle most of us have at, he comes with the kitchen bottle. The one that has been in the kitchen for months. Big as a house plant, 2/3rds used, with ketchup remnants all over the cap.
Does he set it down on the table? Nope. He slams it with authority. Enough to jump a fork off the table and make little children in the street cry.
Dude had some tude and I did not know what to do. When you are in a foreign country, you hesitate to use American discussion techniques. What if it is uncouth to complain? I don't want to offend people, especially since Jeff lives in that city... We can't just take away his tip, that is built into the price of the food and tacked on your bill with the 25% sales tax.
Let's just say that if this happened at my local Bennigan's or Appleby's, there would be some strong words for the waiter and his boss...probably would have gotten the bill taken care of...instead, we sheepishly paid the bill (we were overcharged by 20kr, but did not want to cause any more of scene), and walked still bugs me...I hate the fact I could not really say anything and, as Jeff pointed out, even if we did, nothing would come of it. There is no punishment, it is very hard to be fired, and the servers don't care because they are getting paid $18 per hour regardless of the service.
Denmark is a great country and one that I highly recommend new travelers head to (I will write more about this later), so please don't let this one little episode deter anyone. Okay, there were other service related episodes, but I generally think that Americans are used to things that other countries are not...for example, in the US, we are often hurried through dinner and given the check before we are Europe, meals can take hours and the waiter will only bring the check when you ask. There are times for both, but without knowing that, Americans can seem rude and demanding, while the European counterparts can seem slow and inattentive...little cultural differences...

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