Of Cabbages and Kings

July 31, 2008

While we are on the subject of waiters…

Filed under: Random musing — Tags: , , , — Chinmayi @ 8:26 pm

Have you ever met people who will cheerfully spend thousands on a meal and then leave a few coins behind for the waiter? If you live in India, I am confident that you know what I am talking about.

Eating (and often even wasting) prawns or chocolate cake that you don’t want is acceptable in my country but tipping is considered shockingly extravagant. Often, while dining with people who believe that tipping amounts to throwing money around, my friend and I have had to scramble through our bags and sneak some money in so that the tip is half decent.

The other practice widely prevalent here is be-rude-to-your-waiter. There are people who will assume a peremptory tone while placing an order. They will whine at regular intervals that the food is taking too long and they will complain loudly about the food once it arrives.

I once knew somebody once who liked to entertain his guests by embarassing his waiter – he would ask the waiter utterly silly questions in his most patronising voice and enjoy it tremendously as the poor chap squirmed in his uniform resisting the urge to empty a bowl of spagetti over his interrogator and tried to answer the silly questions in the most dignified maner possible under the circumstances. The jerk I knew was convinced that he was making friends and that the waiter and the others at the table found him extremely funny. Needless to say everybody thought he was a jerk.

Little annoys me more than rude and patronising behaviour where waiters are concerned. And so I was delighted upon reading this. The entire blog is treat, but news that poetic justice has been delivered is particularly satisfying.



  1. I came across this blog entry because I was specifically interested (and googled a bit) if other people had the experience of people from Indian being rude to waiters. I have worked in a very chic and internationally touristy restaurant in New York City for two years (having worked in restaurants with mostly locals before) and I feel like the I’m at the UN sometimes; waiting on people from every country and finding out their own national peculiarities. Mostly I take it in stride and love it, even that most Europeans still have trouble tipping more than 5 or 10 percent.(Most Americans even don’t realize we don’t get minimum wage paid by our employer and that we tip out based on sales to all of our support staff; usually 30%, so sometimes I PAY to wait on tables.)But many Indians (and also Indians who are obviously studying or living here) unfortunately, and I hate to generalize, treat me as if I were a speck of dirt. Not only is the tipping bad, but I am made to feel like a lowly servant with patronizing remarks, am talked over, constantly motioned to wherever I am in the rest. with a wave or a snide comment and generally have to stick to that table because they are so demanding at the detriment to my other tables. And a thank you or please is disappointingly rare. I remember one guy correcting me on everything I said. Finally I was describing french lentils and he shouted that all lentils were from India. I was like in my head “dude, I’m just telling the specials! This isn’t a contest.” I just wonder why I guess? Is it a distaste for the profession. Is it that they think I am in a very lowly status position? Do they not understand that (esp. in NYC) that most of the waiters are fairly well educated. Baffled. You talk about the result but what are the causes. Not upset, just extremely curious.

    Comment by Edward — August 1, 2008 @ 6:33 am

  2. Prawns and chocolate cake together!?! Yeuch. I think I would have left it to. But, I agree with you that people abuse people that they see in a servile role. One of the best things that my dad ever taught me was “Son, be kind to people that you meet on the way up, because you might meet them on the way down.” You might enjoy this:


    Comment by Middle Man — August 1, 2008 @ 8:11 am

  3. Thank you Edward, that was illuminating. I have often wondered whether rude Indians change their ways in other countries. To be perfectly honest, I have very little idea as to what the causes might be. I think class counsciousness plays a role. People in this country tend to assert their class ‘superiority’ in strange ways…they seem to get anxious that they are not being deferred to and that if they insist on special treatment, it proves that they are someone. I don’t know whether you have heard of the term ‘sahib’ [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahib]. Everybody wants to be treated as a sahib.I do know that people who are not insecure about class (whatever their class happens to be) tend to behave much better.
    Unfortunately Indian popular culture (films especially) tends to emphasize that those who serve us are less than us in some way. It does not help that most Indian waiters tend to be disempowered and do not receive much of a formal education. Aside from the Gandhian tradition, there is little to suggest to typical middle-class Indians (the sort that are obsessed with working/ studying in America)that it is very improper and very very rude to behave the way they behave in restaurants. It’s funny, because if you visit their homes, you will find that they are warm, generous and very hospitable (since Indian culture demands that you honour guests) but serve them and they turn into monsters.
    That said, I think you might find that the ones who arrive in mixed groups (with people from other countries) tend to behave better, since they are more integrated into American society. And there’ll be others (few though they might be) that will behave well anyway. How do you ever put up with the rude ones! Are you never tempted to ask them to leave?

    Comment by Maya — August 1, 2008 @ 8:56 am

  4. Middle man, that was an unfortunate combination! I think I was going for expensive food and rich food. Perhaps an ‘or’ instead of the ‘and’ will blunt the impact. Wish more parents were like your dad.

    Comment by Maya — August 1, 2008 @ 9:11 am

  5. Thanks so much Maya! That was very helpful and very clearly written 🙂 I can totally see household behavior being different from the restaurant behavior.
    Your point on waiters in India coming from economically disempowered classes makes sense. I’ve been waiting tables a long time and esp. these days so many people do it in college or in grad school/just starting out, as well as artist and musicians, so people usually know someone in the business or have done it themselves. In that way, they don’t see the class distinctions as so distinct (although it would be naive to say that those distinctions aren’t here in the states as well! They are.)
    I try to be very egaliarian in my treatment of rude people and gracious people…not always successful but I’ve found passive aggressive doesn’t really work, so I try to difuse it by being very professional. Most of the time it’s just easiest to do what they ask unless it interferes with my service to other tables and try to along the table as fast as possible.
    If I talk back to a table however I can be fired on the spot and my job is ultimately more important than a ego contest.
    Thanks for your response!

    Comment by Edward — August 2, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

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