Friday, 8 November 2013

Pressed for time

What's the moral of the story? Scroll below if you want to skip the details.

The children are growing up now, and I am finding that I can do grown-up things with them, things that I never wanted to do with them before, because they felt more like little pains in the butts when they were around me, rather than fun companions. One of those things that I like to do with them now is to have a sit-down snack when we are running errands in town. This usually happens on Saturday mornings (not afternoons, because that's the eve of never never on a Sunday for Greek commercial centres).

We had almost an hour to kill before my daughter finished from basketball, so I sat down with my son (after we had both had a hair cut - another crisis-related experience that I may remind myself to write about another time) at one of my favorite people-watching places in the town, located on a pedestrian zone behind the touristy area just off Stivanadika (the leather street). I hadn't been there for close to two years, so I was delighted to see this particular place still going, looking pretty much the same as I remembered it from past times. It was a really busy moment for the cafe because on that day, a lot of people were in town. It wasn't just the lovely calm weather but the 100 years celebrations of the Agora that bought a lot of us into town. There were only two tables free, a big one and a small one. We took the small one naturally, and waited for the customary menu to arrive.

The waitresses never seemed to stop running in and out of the cafe, bringing menus, orders, bills, receipts, and clearing tables. But that menu card didn't arrive, so we picked one up off another table. Menu cards are fun to browse, even though you know what you want to order; I didn't need to check if the cafe had cappuccino on the list, but my son had more difficulty finding what he wanted. The 'toasted sandwich' came in an array of tastes at cafes and he found it difficult to choose from the list of toasts that he found in the menu. Mindful I suppose of the many crisis discussions that take place in our home, he chose the cheapest one. I told him not to do that - there's always a time to splurge! He then chose the one called 'French toast' (there were no accompanying photos). I wondered whether that would be a sweet toast with cinnamon  or one of those things the French call 'croque monsieur', but I decided not to worry him (he needs to find out for himself how to handle disappointments when they come).

All that was now missing was the waitress to come along to take our order. Every time she came past our table, we were hoping she would stop... but this didn't seem to happen. I raised my hand at one point to grab her attention (I really hate doing that), and she did eventually notice, but my problem now was not that she would come to take our order, but that time was running out and we had to be somewhere else very soon...

Eventually she came. My son ordered his French toast, and I asked for a cappuccino in a large cup. I'm a fussy cafe coffee drinker, being rarely happy with the coffee served in Hania's cafes: usually, cappuccino in Hania is served in a small cup, and usually, it's tepid. But today's outing was not a quest for good coffee; it was just a mother and son moment that I wanted to enjoy, and we were both in need of a pick-me-up.

The waitress didn't understand my extra request (the big cup). I realised she was not Greek from her accent, but I didn't expect not to be understood. I had to repeat the order a couple of times; as an English teacher, I know how she was probably feeling at that moment, and I didn't really want to make her any more uncomfortable. The place was really busy now - there were hardly any spare tables (and Greeks still don't sit communally, as is common elsewhere).

I was still worried about the time, and I hoped things would hurry along now that the order had been taken... but that didn't happen. Even my son was now getting fidgety. It looked like there was only a 25-minute timeframe for the order to be prepared, come to our table and for us to finish it. Not very relaxing if the point of your visit to the cafe was to relax... I tried to stop the waitresses, but I was out of luck. They were both zipping in and out of the cafe at lightning speed. They were rushed off their feet. I went into the cafe kitchen and asked if the order would be getting ready soon, because otherwise, I told them, I'm sorry, but I would have to leave.

The assistant looked at her order list. "Yours is being made up now," she told me. I thanked her and went back to my table. A few more minutes later, and the order finally came (coffee first). The  cappuccino was not the best I'd ever had (the froth was a bit lacking), but at least it was hot. I always keep in mind that I am a fussy coffee drinker, so I easily forgive anyone who can't make a coffee good enough for my tastes. My son's toast was, in his opinion, the best he'd ever had. (Why it was called French is beyond me - the baguette had something to do with it no doubt, but it looked more like a good sandwich-type roll to me than anything else.) I gulped down my coffee, trying not to let my son know how annoyed I was that I could not savour it more slowly. Thankfully the sandwich was cut in two pieces, so I knew he would eventually have to carry one piece with him as we made our way to the other side of the town to pick up his sister...

I didn't really have time to wait till the bill came, so I hurried that one along too. Time was now of the essence. The waitress came round, looked at the empty plates and cups (the other half of the sandwich was now in my son's hand), and said: "A nescafe and a toast, is that right?" No, it wasn't, and I suppose I could have just said "Yes" and the cafe would have lost money on my order, but I didn't, so I had to wait a bit more for her to correct the bill, which still didn't sound right when it came back (I think they under-charged me), but I really didn't have time to get it corrected for a second time. Still, it was polite service with a smile all the way, and I was happy to see the staff doing whatever they could do to please me, even if it didn't really make a difference. Some things cannot be undone.

The moral of the story is:
- don't sit at cafes which are full if you are in a hurry,
- don't expect to be given priority if it is not your turn,
- don't pretend you are trying to relax when you are looking at the clock all the time,
- the customer is not always right: you chose to be where you are, whereas the staff didn't choose to attend to your needs - they simply have to
and above all,
- just because you think you understand the ideology of a concept well doesn't mean that thing will work out the way you want or expect them to:
Capitalism is not real; it is an idea. America is not real; it is an idea that someone had ages ago. Britain, Christianity, Islam, karate, Wednesdays are all just ideas that we choose to believe in and very nice ideas they are, too, when they serve a purpose. These concepts, though, cannot be served to the detriment of actual reality.
We can enjoy daily life more if we put it into perspective.

If you like cool places away from the crowds, you might like to try the Red Bicycle cafe - but don't order medium-rare beef steak, like this German customer did: 'rare' meat is never served in Crete, so it's only to be expected that it wouldn't be cooked according to your expectations (ie your own concept) of a rare meat dish (we don't generally eat pink meat - we still think of that as 'raw'). As for beggars and illegally-copied CD/DVD sellers, that's not the cafe's problem - it's a European issue. 

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