World Cup fever had just descended upon France as we arrived. French flags flew from windows everywhere. The French were set to play an important match against the Nigerians in a couple days, but the upstart US team was also still surprisingly in the tournament. Maybe that’s why the older guy who ran the pizza place we chose that night was so proud, or maybe it was the more than half-century-old tension from the WWII surrender to Germany, or the American film culture prevalence in the place that invented film, après tout! Or maybe the guy had already seen too many clueless tourists at the start of a long tourist season.
My French language was starting to kick back in, and I easily ordered us a pizza, carafe of red wine and a bottle of water. “Only one pizza, for three people?” the guy spewed. “We’ll have one and maybe get another” I tried to explain. “And the water? With or without gas?” He asked, expecting to upsell us on a 6 Euro bottle of still or bubbly Evian. “Tap” I said. You could just see the guy’s head exploding from within.
A younger waiter brought out our wine and water. No plates had been set. Then a medium sized pizza, big enough for the three of us to have two pieces each, but still no plates. We waited patiently for a minute and I realized there were no plates coming.
I went inside where the proud old guy who had taken our original order was casually hanging out and asked for plates. He looked down his nose at me and declared, “that will cost 6 Euros cover.” “Look,” I said in French, gathering my jetlagged, wine-filled thoughts… “I told you we might get more depending on the…” I racked my brain how to say ‘size’, but came up with nothing. “We bought your wine!” I blurted. “6 Euros,” he stated matter-of-fact. My frustration level had peaked. “Fine, 6 Euros, bring the plates!” I almost shouted.
Midway through the pizza we needed more wine, but I really didn’t want to give this guy any more business. My wife, bless her Americanly-ingenious soul, came up with an idea. “Tell him we’ll order one more carafe of wine and one more pizza… if he’ll take off the 6 Euro cover.”
Ordering in French at this point in the journey was easy, negotiating another thing, but I gave it a go. After a little confusion, the guy agreed. “Vous venez d’ou?” Where are you from, he asked. “Nous sommes Americains” I said. He smiled enigmatically and nodded. Maybe it was my rusty French, or respect for the World Cup progress the US had just made, but that smile had a hint of warmth… or maybe condescension. As we left the place, we couldn’t help but give a faint chorus of “USA, USA.”