Last night I finally got to go for dinner at Peppersack, a really nice Medieval-style restaurant in Tallinn Old Town. You know… good hearty cuisine, candles, wooden beams, waitresses in traditional costumes, sturdy furniture, stone walls, and a bit of a swordfight when you’re waiting for your coffee.
I’ll admit that this last one is a little unusual, but there really aren’t enough live brawls in restaurants around here, if you ask me. Bickering, yes – elderly American tourists are always good for that. It’s great when you find yourself seated next to Mr. and Mrs. “How Awful!”, although usually you’re not lucky enough to get much more than a bit of cringeworthy dialogue. Like the prim and proper couple in the Embassy Of Pure Food who complained in great detail about the dryness of the melon. Which they’d consumed in its entirety, with great enthusiasm. The poor waitress was extremely confused. It wasn’t like she could take it back and get a fresh one, nor did they want second helpings. They didn’t want an apology or to speak to the manager. In the end she just sort of stood there, hovering uncertainly, with no idea how to respond – but of course, all they wanted to do was make their point. Estonia is a terrible, terrible place, where all the melons are dry! It would never happen where we come from. Ah, America… now, there’s a country!
Slightly more dramatic was the “gentleman” in a nice little bakery in Vienna, where I’d stopped for some lunch. I was eating my Unidentifiable Pastry and people-watching at my table by the window when an almighty roar filled the air. I said I wanted coffee! The Texan accent boomed out as if through a megaphone, and everyone swivelled nosily to see what was going on. It turned out that Mr. Texan had been given a cappuccino instead of an ordinary coffee – which wouldn’t have been so bad in itself, if only he hadn’t already been shortchanged at the counter. The coffee just tipped him over the edge. I’d love to say “…and then the staff tipped the coffee over him“, but unfortunately they just grovelled and quivered and rushed around in a panic to get the correct drink and make the shouting stop. This was not good enough, however. A full-on speech about customer service and The Way Things Are Done In America ensued, for the benefit of not only the staff, but everyone in the place. It wouldn’t hurt you to smile, either, he finished up, glowering at the young girl who reached him his drink. Several people rolled their eyes. I resisted a very strong urge to get up and tip the coffee over his head myself as an act of assistance to the girl, who was clearly bound by the rules of her workplace and unable to give the necessary punishment without fear of reprisal.
I was a little surprised, then, when she gave him a beautiful smile and said in a clear, sweet voice Thank you, sir, and it would not hurt you to remember that you are no longer in a country where arrogant customers can say whatever they like to workers without the workers having the right to point out that they are being a complete asshole. Admittedly, her colleagues looked a little surprised too, so I can’t caim that this is the way things are done in Austria as a rule. However, I hope that it is. Abuse of staff by customers is one of my top pet hates (and I must remember to tell you about the time when, working in Sainsbury’s in Glasgow, I was verbally and vegetably assaulted by a screaming Chinese woman who later tried to sue me for racial discrimination), and nothing pleases me more than seeing one of the oppressed rise up against the – well, assholes. I nearly cheered. Someone at a nearby table gave a brief round of applause, though, so I decided to stay out of it and let that speak for everyone.
Last night’s was the best yet, though. We’d just finished dinner and were contemplating coffee when some bickering started on the old wooden staircase nearby. One of the waiters, it seemed, had been caught with one of the waitresses, who apparently belonged to another waiter… it all looked a bit complicated, and we couldn’t understand anything they were saying, but we got the general gist of it when the girl ran off and her secret lover was attacked by a rather irate young man waving a sword. To our great alarm, a full-on swordfight followed, and they came crashing down the staircase and almost into our table before finishing in a sort of stand-off back on the stairs. I found myself cheering when the girl returned and gave them both a quare slap roon the ja’, as they* say.
Probably completely staged for tourists, you know. But part of me desperately wants to believe that you can be sitting at your dinner in a medieval restaurant in Tallinn and witness two lovestruck young men in frilly shirts duelling earnestly to win the love of a woman.
* and by “they”, I obviously do not mean the Estonian people.