We're Jason, Beth, Lee Anna, Sawyer, and Sarah Claire, a family of five living, learning, and laughing lots in Northern Africa.
We hope you can learn a little (and maybe laugh a little too) as you read about our latest adventures.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Check, Please!

Beth and I eat out a lot. A whole lot. We ate out a fair amount in the States, as well, so we've seen and noticed lots of differences in dining practices around the world. In any self-respecting restaurant in Texas, for instance, you always start with chips and salsa. If you're eating seafood in the South, you can probably find cheese grits on the menu. And in almost all the American restaurants we've been in, if you order an appetizer and an entree, they'll bring you the appetizer before the rest of your meal. We've discovered in our time here that these practices (and lots of others!) are not necessarily globally accepted. Sometimes, though, the cultures clash in ways we never imagined.

When you eat at an American restaurant in the states--say Applebee's or Chili's or On the Border--you seldom have to ask for the check. Your waitress will likely bring it as you finish your meal, sometimes even right after the food arrives at your table. This is for your convenience: you may pay and leave at your leisure.

Here, however, it is bad form to bring the check before you ask for it. I've even had several waiters pretend that they didn't want to bring the check: "It's still early!! Are you ready to leave so soon?" And when you do ask for the check, they almost always come and bus the table of all the dirty dishes then go print your receipt and bring it back. If you don't ask for it, you might be left drinking coffee until closing time. Our first week here, we wasted a lot of time sitting and waiting for the check to come.

Last night we saw what can happen when the two worlds collide. We were in an American restaurant called Lucille's. It's just like you might imagine a joint called Lucille's to be like: great burgers, chicken-fried steak, big french fries, vegetable-of-the-day and everything. They even have chocolate pie. This place would work well in West Texas (except for the beef bacon). We eat there about once a week. Well last night, a local girl was there with some friends. Evidently they were just drinking Coke and enjoying themselves when the waiter brought the check to the table. He just left it there for them to take care of whenever they got ready to go. (At least that's how our American eyes saw it.) Her North African eyes saw it differently, however. She picked up the bill, and called for the waiter. "What's This!?!? I didn't ask for my check!! What are you saying?? I am deeply offended!!" Then she took the check from the table and ripped it into several small pieces. The poor waiter responded that this was just their system...it's an American restaurant...no offense intended. Well, she couldn't let it go. She yelled at him some more, then yelled at the other waiters who came to try to help. Then they took her to the front of the restaurant where she talked on the phone--maybe with Lucille herself. Her friends at the table just sat there waiting for all this to be over, trying to figure out how much they needed to pay. Eventually, she came back to the table and sat for another twenty minutes with her friends. Then they all left, in an awkwardly quiet fashion.

I wonder, when we visit the states, am I going to be offended when the waitress brings my check without clearing my table?

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