Too polite to be enthusiastic?

3 Feb

The Super Bowl got me thinking, not surprisingly, about all things American. I’ve never lived in America, and I’m in no way American, but I’ve been to a good cross section of American cities and I used to work for an American company. This, admittedly rather weak, research tells me that my favourite thing about America is the general level of enthusiasm.

super bowl

You don’t need to look any further than the Super Bowl to see what I’m talking about. A whole nation gets involved in one evening of sport and the atmosphere turns into that of carnival. I asked an old colleague if she’d be less interested as her team weren’t involved this year. Her response was ‘No, of course not! You just pick a team for the evening and put all your energy behind them.’ I like this a lot. I love the determination to be involved and the willingness to be so very involved no matter where your allegiances normally lie.


It might be a slightly tedious link but the other area where enthusiasm comes in bundles is in American hospitality. Specifically restaurants. I realise that their trade relies on tips and is often defined by the phrase ‘working for tips,’ but given that it’s now standard to tip around the globe anyway, there’s no longer any reason why they should be so much better at attending to our service needs, and yet they are. Walk into any American dining establishment and your every wish is granted, often before you even knew it was a wish. I’m not saying that our restaurant service is worse, it just has a different feel to it. Here in Great Britain, at a restaurant, we ask our waiters and waitresses for things: ‘Please may we have another bottle of wine.’ In America, it’s not uncommon for the waiter to have brought over bottle of whatever has just run out, just in case you did want a refill, and that happens before you’re aware of the saddening beckon of emptiness from the current one.


busy restaurantSo, given that a 12.5% service charge is now standard in the UK, and our general ability to adapt to what we think we should be getting for our money, why are not now mirroring this US standard of service? My suspicion is that we perhaps don’t want it. We are British and we like to ask and asked for things. Heavens above, what if a given diner was offended at the presumption that they would like another bottle of wine? Wouldn’t it be rude to assume that everyone enjoys getting moderately to rather zealously pickled? On the flip side, and I realise how pathetic I sound here (or is it just politely British?), I’d feel rude to send away a waiter with a bottle of wine after they’d gone to the trouble of getting it, even if I didn’t want it anyway. Ditto ordering from a menu. In America the waitresses like to showcase their inside out knowledge of the menu by talking you through it before suggesting the exact dish you might like. This is lovely, but to be honest I prefer to make my own decision and, having taken the trouble to turn up to school for quite a few years, I’d like to read the menu to myself, thank you very much. I actually rather enjoy the shocked expression that appears cross the face of many waiters and waitresses working in the UK when faced with ‘what would you recommend.’ What I enjoy most is the fact that it’s almost always followed a seamlessly knowledgeable answer. I shows quiet confidence and maybe that’s what we like so much. No showing off, no loud show of exemplary service, just the knowledge that every wish will be granted, as long as you show a want for it.

Bakers Hall Waiter

So I guess what I’m saying is I like the American show of enthusiasm, but perhaps from a small distance? I’ll just sit here and politely applaud this show. Would be terribly un-British to do anything else really, wouldn’t it?


Pictures taken from: