CULTURAL ETIQUETTE

Bistro Behavior

Four ways to get treated like un pilier (a pillar, or a regular).

In The Authentic Bistros of Paris, writer François Thomazeau and photographer Sylvain Ageorges celebrate 51 quintessential Parisian bistros (littlebookroom.com, $17). Thomazeau filled us in on what's not in the book: how to be treated like un pilier (a pillar, or a regular).

You must accept your fate. French waiters are rude and aloof--and the French love it. We expect a waiter to serve us when necessary and then forget our existence. Some waiters ignore you for hours, but that means you can spend an afternoon in a bar on a single coffee. Anyway, they can afford to be rude, as a service fee is generally included in the prices. Add a little bonus, perhaps 10 percent, when the service and attitude are to your liking.

The customer is not king. Staff and customers are on equal footing. Waiters don't expect you to be nice or jovial--you shouldn't expect them to be, either. But behind their masks of rudeness, waitstaff like to crack jokes, and they will chat with customers who are on the same wavelength (soccer and Iraq are always popular topics) while they let others sit waiting.

Soda is for suckers. I know of an American family who was told to leave the restaurant because they ordered Coke with their duck stew. Some things you just don't do. Beer is acceptable, but red wine is preferable.

Always play it cool. If you raise your hand or shout "Waiter!" the staff will get upset and ignore you. Instead, catch your server's eye--always easier if you are young and attractive. Nod and look at your empty table with an air of despair; the waiter will understand.

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