“What’s up with Table 2?” Holly, the hostess asks me.
“What about table 2?”
“They didn’t want to sit in your section.”
“I don’t know why.”
I look over at Table 2. A cute brown-haired woman and her boyfriend are intently studying their menus. Oh shit. I remember them.
“Those two people do not like me,” I say.
“Why not?” Holly asks.
“Because I make them feel stupid.”
“The woman told Fluvio that I corrected her when she mispronounced something on the menu. She said that made her feel dumb.”
“Are you serious?” Holly says. “That made her feel stupid?”
“Then maybe she is stupid.”
“You might have a point there.”
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Holly says proudly.
“Eleanor Roosevelt,” I reply. “Very good.”
Holly smiles at me. “She was right.”
“I guess so.”
I go back to my section. I feel bad. The couple on table 2 are actually nice people. And, to be honest, I’m a bit of a pedantic bore. I’ve always corrected mispronunciations – even before I was a waiter. Chalk it up to having an English teacher as a father.
But my pedantic streak is more characterological than that. Before I entered Seminary I took one of those aptitude tests – you know, to see what job I might be good at. Being a minister was number five on the list. Speech pathologist was numero uno. Fourteen years later I made an abortive effort to transition careers using the services of an overpriced job coach. After retaking the same aptitude test fourteen years later, guess what? I should’ve become a speech pathologist.
Trust me, becoming a waiter was nowhere on that list.
So it should come as no surprise that I correct Yuppies when they verbally strangle “tagliatelle puttanesca”or “pollo con carciofi”. Besides, these people are always telling me they summer in Tuscany anyway.
Sometimes I can be an arrogant waiter. I’ll cop to that. But when I repeat back an order to a customer using a menu item’s correct pronunciation I’m not trying to be a prick. I I‘m trying to make sure I got your order right. If I see a customer begin to look embarrassed I knew how to say something they didn’t I quickly mention how it took me months to master saying “Pappardelle Bolognese.” Sometimes customers have corrected my mispronunciations. And you know what? I’m grateful for it. I hate mispronouncing words. It’s like walking around with toilet paper stuck to your shoe or stuff hanging out of your nose. Yeah it’s embarrassing. But I’d rather have someone tell me about the TP and boogers than let me walk around looking like a moron.
But this girl says I make her feel stupid because I can pronounce Pappardelle Cinghiale and she can’t? Gimme a break. She and her boyfriend look like the usual upwardly mobile attractive power couple types. I made them feel dumb? Was it what I said? How I said it? No matter – I can make successful people feel stupid.
I never knew that I, a humble waiter, held the keys to such power.