mercredi, novembre 02, 2005

05.11.02: Resto Pensée

I think it was just over 100 years ago that Pavlov won the Nobel Prize for his work on conditioned response. The thing I don't remember (from the only psychology course that I took in high school) is, what did the dogs do after he rang the bell when he didn't give them the damn food? OK, so we know that they salivated, but how angry were they when they didn't get the food, and what did they do next?

I was thinking about this last night (OK, almost every night) when I was waiting for a glass of water, which seems to be a big deal over here. After 40 years of restaurant service in the U.S., I have been totally conditioned to expect a glass of water delivered, without my asking, (and independent of whether I need it or want it) within about 2 minutes after I sit down. Moving here I get to experience the conditioned-response-meets-denial side of the experience spectrum. And on more topics than just a glass of water.

[Sidebar: So anyway, as I'm wondering how many times to request water before it is considered embarassingly rude (by local standards), the woman at the table next to me plops her baby on the table and changes her diaper (the baby's) in the middle of the restaurant dining room. Which gives me another thought ... do people do this in the US and I just never paid attention, or have I just discovered another quaint local custom? I think it might be the latter. OK, aprés-change, a very cute little baby]

I am coming around to recognize that what is so much perceived rudeness between foreigners is just a lot of seemingly common situations (but from independent perspectives) and the participants have vastly conflicting conditioned responses. For a glass of water in a restaurant -- not a big deal. The handshake thing they got going on over here -- hopefully not a big deal in the long run ('cause I cannot just keep it straight every day exactly who I have seen already today, and who I haven't). But, on the other hand, two unfortunate deaths in the suburbs leads to burning 1,000 cars a night in Paris for twelve nights and counting. And 'splain to me again that thing where we end up in Irak. Who rang the damn bell?

For my part, I am trying to pay attention to what I have been conditioned to do vs. what it is that I either really want or need. I hope that's not too french-y for the long haul. It may be a good strategy for holding onto some sanity.

Oh, and did I mention ... hold the H2O, forget about the damn dogs ... the côte du Rhône with the fusilli au saumon is quite excellent, merci.

(The photo is the local Italian restaurant where they do serve water, have a pretty good lasagna, and they keep very polite smiles on their faces while I butcher the french language, mercilessly.)