mardi 28 octobre 2008

Cowboys and Indians

We had a great dinner yesterday evening. Even the obvious racism didn't detract too much from the food, the ambience and the company.

It was my Lovely Paris Friend's birthday and we went out to La Coupole. In the Parisian world of good old-fashioned brasseries, La Coupole is one of the kings - real vieille école stuff - with amazing service and great food.

The waiters are in bow-tie and dinner suit, and they all come together to sing happy birthday to you - if you organise this in advance. I didn't, but someone at a table nearby did, so hopefully LPF got a bit of vicarious pleasure from this...

Anyway, entrées of oysters and prawns were fantastic and we followed this with two of the main courses for which the house is famous. LPF took the steak tartare, I went for the lamb curry.

What happened next surprised me. Now, I worry that I am being totally anglo-saxon in my reaction to this. I've asked French colleagues this morning and they think it is perfectly acceptable and that it is in fact 'typique'. This is what happened:

The waiter who had served us all evening came with the steak tartare for LPF and presented it with a flourish. My lamb curry didn't appear.

What did appear was an Indian man - yes, a man from India - wearing a maharajah's outfit - yes, a maharajah's outfit - wielding a silver domed trolley.

With a muttering of something like "your curry, sir", he pulled back the cover of the trolley and proceeded to serve up the curry from within. He did this with impeccable style and class, but nonetheless I couldn't get away from the nagging thought at the back of my mind...

...they have employed an Indian and dressed him up in 'Indian' clothes just so that he can serve curry to the middle classes?

What worries me is that I'm seemingly the only one who thinks this is wrong.

37 commentaires:

Nico a dit…

Incorrect, yes, as you pointed out. As wrong as the whole tourist trade where people sell their cultures to whoever is willing to pay. Kind of French and bourgeois.. I don't want to be mean but that's how I see it.

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Nico, bourgeois is the word for it, definitely. But such an amazing experience beyond that.

CawfeeGuy a dit…

at least he was employed...

travelling, but not in love a dit…

CG - true, true, but nonetheless...

Breezy a dit…

Very strange you can see the French mentality at work in there somewhere. I wish you had asked them why they did it or better still why your friend's steak tartare was not served by a Ghengis Khan lookalike. Sorry I'm off on one now imagining a row of waiters like the dolls you used to get in national dress.

H a dit…

This reminds me of the women who dress up as Disney princesses at Disneyland. (I was heartbroken to discover that the 'human' Mulan didn't really kick butt.)

I guess despite inherent racial prejudices or image vs. reality, they are merely people who are employed to fulfil existing pre-conceptions. As long as there is a demand for them, they'll be there!

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Breezy - it's very french. Cute in a weird way, but a little off-message!

H, was the Disneyland Mulan chinese? I'm guessing she was white with some kind of eye make up. That's how she'd be at Disneyland Paris...

wontletlifedefineme a dit…

You're not the only one who thinks its wrong.

Tha reminds me, in London last week we visited an Indian restaurant and as most people at our table never had Indian food before we asked the waiters if the chef could make a selection of not too spicy Indian food - his choice. He had an absolute field day and came up with lots of delicious dishes and even came to our table to bring some dishes over himself. The food was amazing, and it wasn't even that expensive considering we'd given them carte blanche. But these really were Indian people, serving their own kind of food.

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Marjolein - sounds great. The thing I miss most about the UK (but don't tell my Mother) is Indian food. It's just not the same here.

And being served by a faux maharajah? Camp? sure. Good? not really....

Valleys Mam a dit…

It sounds naff to me, and so stereotyped.
Did they have a fisherman serve the oysters.
I dont like that sort of twee stuff, they had a restaurant in Abercanaid called Dine in a Mine- tourists loved it ,Myfawy and collier boys, loaf of bread on a board , not rolls etc.
Its just locked into another era TBNL, see how far we have moved on.

travelling, but not in love a dit…

VM, it was definitely harking back to a bygone era.

Dine-in-a-Mine sounds great to me (sorry!) although Myfanwy has been known to make me cry...not sure how great that would be at dinner...

H a dit…

I've only ever been to 2 Disneylands. One was in Hong Kong, so naturally everyone there was Chinese- except Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. (Yes, even Captain Jack Sparrow was Chinese. Hehe.)

The other was in California...and I saw no Mulan there. Gasp. Racist!

travelling, but not in love a dit…

H, that's so funny. Maybe we can forgive Paris Disneyland for giving us a white Mulan if Hong Kong Disneyland give us a chinese Jack Sparrow....

Nico a dit…

Breezy, I think the French are so focused on cuisine and living a good life that it's easy for outsiders - other nations - to think they overdo it. I read the maharajah's outfit as an attempt to create such an atmosphere of perfect luxury.. with a dose of fantasy.. in real life, a maharajah would have us served as curry.. Why the Indian guy was singled out, however, is a good question. They may not have a Mongolian waiter.. they may find the maharajah outfit more elegant than the Ghenghis khan one.. Reasons can be many - I'm now quite intrigued. It would be lovely to call the restaurant and hear their reply!

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Nico, I believe that it was absolutely done as a bit of luxe, as a blast from the past, as something special.

I'm certain it is not done in order to belittle the indian guy. But it does.

conortje a dit…

but was he cute? (whoops, sorry...)

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Conortje, you are the baddest, dog.

Alas no - although I did like his outfit...thought it would quite suit me, he he.

Nico a dit…

Yes - was he cute, that was actually my next question. You seem very concerned about that guy. I think it is quite common for the staff to appear in national dress at restaurants or tourist shops.. I somehow have a problem understanding how it belittled him.

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Nico, it was funny and strange and weird. I understand that it is pretty harmless.

It belittled him because he was the only indian waiter and he had to wear Indian clothes.

The 'french' waiters weren't wearing Louis XV costumes and the black waiters weren't dressed as african princes.

But hey, I do see the humour in it, trust me.

Nico a dit…

It bothers you that he was singled out.. Perhaps they seriously fell for the outfit? But I can't imagine keeping a guy on a full-time payroll to serve an occasional plate of Indian food. He must be a regular waiter and just dress up backstage.. or rather, he only dressed up for your table because of the birthday. Call them for an answer - say that you are planning another birthday with special treats. Specifically ask about the Indian guy - on what condition does he appear in the fabulous outfit, which you'd like to see again? Then let us know :-)

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Nico, trust me, he was employed to serve the curry and that's all.

When he wasn't serving it, he was standing by his trolley, waiting for an order.

Here's his picture...

http://conexaoparis.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/couloeve1.jpg

travelling, but not in love a dit…

photo now added on the post - for everyone's pleasure.

Now tell me this is normal!

Nico a dit…

Hmm.. a modest-looking guy but appears well-fed.. Perhaps he's a subcontractor at this place :-x He might have been an only representative of an ethnic cuisine there, hence the outfit.. They probably don't serve African food at all, while French food is taken for granted..

Daryl a dit…

I do think its not right .. I mean if they do this, why dont they send 'round some Brit waiter with the fish & chips or the Italian waiter with the pasta course ..

:-Daryl

Mike a dit…

that just sounds wrong on many levels. i can see the camp value in it if you were in such a place but you were obviously not. racial stereotypes can definitely be taken for granted. i just chalk it up to ignorance. as for me, a child of the 70's growing up in suburban maryland, it was more than difficult being the lone filipino [let alone ASAIN] kid in school. i was called just about everything but filipino. thank goodness times have changed ... for the most part.

going back to the posting though -- it makes you wonder why the man in the costume would actually allow himself to be put in that situation in the first place.

Louise a dit…

I had a whole comment typed, then I glanced over, and it was pretty much exactly what Breezy said.

I wonder if you ordered Escargot, if some rude French person would come bringing it out with a flourish, hurling insults at you. (Actually, to any French person reading this, I'm just KIDDING! I've never been to France, but my dad has, and he said the rude stereotype was exaggerated.)

Daisy a dit…

Ooh the Coupole- you were just near chez nous! I have been there and remarked upon the Indians- when I was there, there were two of them, standing at the ready with the curry tray ready to serve anyone who ordered it. In the menu it said it was their world famous lamb curry, and has been served by Indians there for like, hundreds of years or something. It would have been so exotic in the old days to have an Indian in his glad rags serve up curry. So I think it's a traditional throwback and an attempt to keep an old speciality... special.

david mcmahon a dit…

Now that is food for thought, in every sense of the phrase.

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Daryl, exactly. Weird is what it is.

Mike, I'm guessing he hasn't much choice? Who knows? Why would he?

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Louise, trust me, I wouldn't be ordering the escargot...eee-oo

Daisy - it's a great place in so many ways and I can understand them keeping a tradition. But there are many traditions that are best consigned to history...

David, well put sir, well put.

Manuel a dit…

ach I cannot wait to be in Paris next week with all those wonderfully snooty waiters......magic moments.....learning from the noses of the masters

12ontheinside a dit…

You're right, it is wrong. I feel ashamed to say though that I think my reaction would have been stunned silence... followed by laughter.
Or maybe he was going to a fancy dress party after work and wouldn't have time to change?

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Manuel - you're in Paris while I'm not here! Quelle dommage!!

12oti - my initial reaction was to laugh, but then I thought..."no way...this is so wrong."

Moannie a dit…

Ok...here's a thought...suppose that La Capoule has been serving this famous curry for a long time and has a deserved reputation, and the Indian chefs and servers are proud of their work, proud to be Indian and proud to be working in a world famous restuarant, and have no qualms about appearing in their costume which have not changed for centuries.
And supposing that we are too sensitive and look for un politically correctness in places it does not exist.
I'm not saying all this is true...just supposing.

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Moannie, you have a very valid point. But just supposing that no-one in all that time had stopped to think about the implications of the uniform or the message they are sending out to sensitive sould like myself.

It's most certainly nothing more than a tradition that could do with an update, I'm sure.

Sandi McBride a dit…

I am at a loss for words...French ones or otherwise. I have to agree with you, this is racist...racism is all over the world, I don't know a cure for it. If I did I would share it free of charge, without running for office so I would be paid for sharing it...
good post, so glad David directed me here.
Sandi

travelling, but not in love a dit…

Thanks Sandi, please come back again soon...and I agree, it is racist!