Robert DeNiro’s Waitering: Talking Italian

It was around 10pm and we were somewhere in Bristol.

“I’m hungry”
“Me too”
“Let’s try this Italian Place”

And, quick as a flash, there we were in ‘Zzz’ (Obviously that wasn’t it’s actual name – who’d think that was a good choice for authentic Italian cuisine? – I’ve removed a vowel or two to protect the innocent and as Lloyd Grossman used to say on Through the Keyhole – now there’s a creepy idea for a reality show – ‘The clues are there’).

I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but I always seem to end up being seated at the back of restarant. The tables reserved for Hen and Stag parties, the Hitlers, and men in long anorak’s called ‘Nigel’. You’re led on a walk of shame, compelled to stare at the floor, as the waiter leads you through row after row of empty tables and groups of young people wearing trendy plastic-rimmed glasses. You walk passed the tables, through the kitchen, passed the bins, down an alleyway and into the greasy spoon on the corner of the next street.

Okay, so it wasn’t that bad. But you get the idea.

“So guys,”, said our waiter with too much chirpiness and familiarity, “what is it tonight? Shopping or of out on the town afterwards?”. I looked at Sarah’s nice, but clearly not Friday-night-on-the-town-material thick red jumpers, and my wooly fleece worthy of Val Doonicon, our huge pile of shopping bags, and tried desperately to hold in a chuckle. Perhaps he thought we were off to see the band of the Royal Scots Guards, or Emerdale Farm:Live or something.

“Bit of shopping”, replied Sarah trying not to meet my eye.

All was going well at first. We were presented with our drinks in an orderly fashion (Italian beer, if you’re interested: like Belgian beer, but oranger), and treated to a brief appraisal of our Italina pronunciation whilst ordering. Then the waiter gave us a brief history of his Italian friend, who’d taught him how to prounounce the entire menu when he’d started working there.

It’s an interesting combination of the human senses that creates our impression. Thankfully hearing isn’t one of them. With film-score timing, the fire alarm started just as the waiter tilted my plate onto the table and covered my thumb in boiling pasta source.

We debated whether we should leave – we were hungry, yes, but hungry enough to burn alive in the process?

“I’ll just go and find out what’s going on. This hardly ever happens”, smiled waiter-boy. I suspected that there was probably a fire somewhere and that someone had incorporated a great system into the design of the building that alerted people to this fact, but I let it go. Instead my mind wandered, as best it could to the soundtrack of a 120 decibel siren, around the phrase ‘hardly ever happens’.

And so this went on some time. Mouthful of food, deafening noise, fight the instict to bash head against the table, swallow, repeat.

“Deserts?” chirped over-eager Waiter. He was hopeful. But, being English, we ordered them through politeness.

“I’m definitely going out for a drink in a bit”, Puppy-waiter informed us, “it’s been a night of complaints”.

Really? You mean I wasn’t the only one who thought trying to eat whilst fighting the urge to do a Reservoir Dogs job on my own ears just to silence the fire alarm? And then I started to feel bad. Sarah had complained about her meal just a bit – it didn’t have even one piece of chicken in it, which isn’t usually what is expected of a chicken and pasta dish.

I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to point out that his over-eagerness to serve his customers had meant I’d spent the entire meal feeling like I had to eat whilst smiling and going ‘mmm, nice’. I wanted to point out that speaking Italian is not necessarily a prerequisite to eating pasta. I wanted to point out that a fire alarm is a pretty universal thing, and shouldn’t be treated like a minor irritation like a Leona Lewis song on the radio.

But I’m English. So we left him a £5 tip to go and drown his sorrows.

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