Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Which Fish

“To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.”
-Igor Stravinsky

On one of his recent gallivants, Spouse had dinner in Chicago with some colleagues. There was fish on the menu: 'White Fish' was the terse description offered.
Spouse, being quite the curious sort about what he consumes, asked the waitress for her expert advice on which particular white fish they happened to be serving.
"White Fish," said she. She pointed to the menu, perhaps presuming that Spouse had missed the line which stated White Fish rather clearly.
"No," said Spouse gently, "I meant, which white fish is it?"
The waitress, disbelieving of such foolishness, pointed again, eyes a little bigger.
"White Fish. I said it's White Fish."
"But is it cod, or haddock, or whiting, or plaice?" pleaded Spouse as his stomach growled.
"It's White Fish," said the waitress, who shrugged, and Spouse knew all of a sudden that that was to be the end of the discussion.
Were I the waitress, and uncertain which fish, I would have explained that the restaurant staff refer to it only as White Fish; I would have attempted to appease the customer by either conducting some brief research into the actual type of fish, or at the very least supporting the hungry person by agreeing that White Fish is indeed a rather vague title.
Her attitude was, instead, one of take-it-or-leave-it, I-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about, and is not very conducive to good appetite or warm reception.
The simple fact is that the waitress was not listening to the real question.
I would have liked to be the waitress charged with such an innocent but interesting query. I have always preferred to listen than to talk: I enjoy observing human beings and along my way I gather the fruits of many stories.
Of late, some curious reminders of my former waitressing life have been coming back to haunt me, albeit in ways that inspire the flow of creativity.
I had, shall we say, interesting times- there is nothing like being surrounded by a flock of people to generate new ways of seeing and writing about the world.
I suspect that the tables are calling out to me once more.


Beth said...

this is so interesting--my daughter who I think of as practically your twin--is waitressing in DC now as she awaits her time to leave for Macedonia. She calls me every day with new stories about the guests at her restaurant and claims that it is all fodder for her career as a writer and anthropologist. She seems to be bringing in big $ in tips so I imagine her approach of listening and treating the customers well is more effective than the approach that your spouse encountered.

julochka said...

this is further proof of exactly how far we are from our food...where it's produced, where it comes from, what it even is! i'll bet she got all bent out of shape because she had no idea that white fish wasn't really a kind of fish, so she was actually incapable of understanding Spouse's question!

it's sad, isn't it? she probably thinks the fish comes in frozen lumps from a big truck...

Pauline said...

If we could shut out the noise in our own heads, listening might be a better practiced skill. Or perhaps listening will still that chatter long enough to learn something. Either way, it seems to be a lost art...

Barb said...

Well, my big question is ... did spouse order the "white fish" and enjoy it? B

Pappy said...

I think I shall start calling you Ele rather than The. The sounds so biblical. I think most places have removed the "Service" chapter from their training manuals. I think I would have been well entertained had I ever had you for a waitress.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Beth, I can easily believe that the best fodder comes from working in an environment where you meet lots of people. I think too that some customers don't see the waitress, which still can make interesting stories. If she's getting such wonderful tips then she must be good at her job and good with people, traits that will serve her very well in whatever she does in life.

Julie, good point about food and where it comes from. The waitress was probably not the only member of staff not to know. You put me in mind of an Aldo Leopold quote:
"There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace."

Pauline, we can go places if we learn to listen. It's so important. Society will fall apart without the art of listening.

Barb, no he didn't. He had something else :) It was too much trouble and he likes to know what he's eating.

Texican, "most places have removed the "Service" chapter from their training manuals." Yes, I'm in full agreement here. It seems that most don't care anymore. It was always about making money but now it's priority over all.
I like to think you would have left the restaurant I spent most time in not just well fed but remembering the waiting staff for a long time- the best place I worked in made sure that customers were treated with good humour and respect and attention no matter the busy hour of the day, and it became an instinctive habit to smile and make jokes no matter how bad we felt about being tired or run off our feet. It was restaurant policy and after a while it became my natural tendency. I couldn't now work any other way. It was a good idea to start with that place when I began working.
I don't mind being called Ele either... I got used to The but life is an ever changing process so we must go with it!

polona said...

sadly,there's still too much uninformed and uninterested waiting staff... perhaps she thinks the fish is white because it comes from the ice (of the freezer) ;)

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Polona, good thinking- perhaps that's got something to do with it. After all it's just a colour, she didn't know what the fuss was.

hele said...

A duck hears also.

I suspect a duck might hear more than a waitress.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Hele, yes, and the duck would probably have gone off to find more information for Spouse and returned with either an apology or an explanation.

Relyn Lawson said...

I read once that in France being a waiter is a career, and a noble one. That these men dedicate their lives to food and to helping discerning customers eat well. Not being French, I have no idea if that is true, but I love the thought. Can you imagine being served by someone who knows food, loves it, and has chosen to spend their lives helping people eat well? I'm usually just happy if they are moderately friendly and keep my water glass full.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Relyn, I do believe you're right, that being a waiter has different levels of respectability depending on the location, and as you said in France it's something to be perfected. I imagine they check your resume, background, test you on certain things- and in other places they'll just ask "when can you start?"
It's taken very seriously- the fact that they would serve their art, their work, to a customer.

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