A pigeon's life... tiring of tossed crumbs and considering take-out
For our eleventh wedding anniversary dinner, mon mari chose a restaurant facing the midnight-blue sea in the old Catalan village of Collioure.
I had carefully ironed a two-piece ensemble en lin and applied an extra dusting of bronzing powder sur les pommettes in preparation for our romantic celebration. On my way out of the hotel's narrow salle-de-bain, I noticed Jean-Marc seated on the edge of the bed, watching the Grand Prix de Brésil. He was ready to go, dressed in his favorite Châteauneuf-du-Pape T-shirt.
"Are you sure it's a good idea to wear that here in Banyuls wine country?" I asked. The etiquette question was only a pretext to get him to change out of that bright orange T-shirt! Did he have to wear it on our special night out?
My husband grinned. The wrinkly T-shirt favori would stay with him.
We walked from our hotel to the seaside restaurant, where the employees were slow to greet us. "It's the end of the season," Jean-Marc pointed out. "They're probably tired and fed up with serving the tourists."
With dragging feet, the waiter led us to a room that looked more like a hospital cafeteria than a Michelin non-starred restaurant. Plastic plants did little to warm up the sterile, gris-sur-blanc atmosphere. Only two other tables were taken; I heard French spoken at the one, English at the other.
Jean-Marc studied the carte des vins while I went over the menu. When the sommelier appeared, my husband had a few questions about the wine; he was searching for a fruity red to go with his meal, one that would also complement his anchovy appetizer.
The wine steward said he did not have a young, local wine, so Jean-Marc set his sights on a rosé. Disappointed to learn they had no half-bottles of rosado, Jean-Marc settled for a demi-bouteille of Collioure red 2002—the vintage being a little older than Monsieur had wished for.
Jean-Marc lifted the glass of champagne he had ordered as an apéritif. Before it even reached his mouth, he was shaking his head. "C'est tiède."
Hoping to get him to quit fussing, I reached over and touched the glass to find out for myself. It felt fine to me.
"No, it's warm," Jean-Marc insisted. "Champagne should be chilled!"
Things heated up quickly when a bug was discovered just beneath the flute's rim.
"Un moustique!" Jean-Marc removed the insect from inside the glass, wiping it on the table. (I looked the other way, hoping to erase the squishy image from my mind.)
Undeterred, Jean-Marc took a sip of the bubbly, only to push the glass away. "Tiède!"
I was dumbstruck when he reached over, plucked up the mosquito carcass, and returned it to the inside wall of the glass. Next, he summoned the waiter.
"You didn't have to do that!" I whispered. "You could have just told the waiter the bug was there!" I have read about customers who do just this sort of thing—bug placement!—in order to change orders on a whim or to avoid paying for something. I did not want the waiter to confuse my husband with "one of them"—one of the buggers!
When the waiter returned, Jean-Marc complained about the mosquito and the fact that the champagne was tiède. The waiter's response was to return with another lukewarm glass of champagne.
Jean-Marc took matters into his own hands, this time asking for un seau of ice. Visibly ruffled, he explained, "A waiter should always pour the champagne in the client's presence. Did you notice that both times he brought the glass, already filled, from the kitchen? The same is true for wine ordered by the glass. They should pour it at the table so that you are sure of what you are getting."
No matter how uncomfortable I was about my husband's exigence, I was impressed by his knowledge of restaurant etiquette—not the kind we diners are supposed to have (elbows off table, chew with mouth shut) but the kind the wait staff are supposed to practice.
While the flute of champagne chilled in the bucket, Jean-Marc began to critique the red wine that had already been served. Apparently, it was tiède as well.
Enough was enough. "You are a wine snob!" I said, pushing my menu away with a sigh of impatience.
"Je ne suis pas wine snob!" he replied. "Wine snobs buy the most expensive wines without looking for a better price/quality ratio," Jean-Marc explained. "A wine snob will walk into a store and ask for the most expensive Côtes du Rhone. That is a wine snob!"
As I learned the difference between a wine snob and a wine buff, I watched my husband of eleven years from across the table. His serious face was in direct contrast to the crinkly orange Châteauneuf-du-Pape T-shirt that he would wear, like a uniform, throughout our romantic weekend. No, he was no snob, wine or otherwise.
made of linen
sur les pommettes (f)
on the cheekbones
la salle de bain(s)
le Grand Prix de Brésil
Formula One championship car race in Brazil
a kind of wine made in the Roussillon county of France
la carte des vins
slang for rosé wine
a half bottle or 37.5 cl
monsieur (as in monsieur difficile)
mister, mister picky
it's warm (not chilled)
Je ne suis pas wine snob (snob de vin)!
I am not a wine snob!
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety