At lunch time today I was back at the Argentinean restaurant Mi-tango where O and I celebrated on Tuesday. This time I was with a big group of colleagues, and we sat on the terrace.
During the lunch, a Belgian colleague of mine started very quickly to get annoyed with the waiter (from Argentina I think, he has quite a thick Spanish accent when speaking French). She sat next to me and as I had mentioned that I had been there on Tuesday, she kept turning to me to ask if he was always this rude. I have to admit that I didn’t find the waiter very rude, just a little bit stressed with two big groups of people plus the other guests. At one point the waiter asked if we would mind if the 9th person moved to sit at the end of the table so that he could use the small table for some other guests. My colleague said very annoyed that yes, we did mind as there wouldn’t be enough space for us to eat and then she kept saying that he just wanted to earn as much money as possible etc [the other big group of people had persons sitting at both ends of their table]. It disturbed me quite a lot as I didn’t agree with her, maybe because I’m not that sensitive to so-called rudeness…
When I came back to the office, I told the story to another colleague who had not come with us. She said immediately that it was a perfect example of the difference between Spanish and French, and even more Belgians! She explained that Belgians (she’s French-speaking so I don’t know about the Flemish) already find the French people rude, so the more direct Spanish (or Spanish-speaking) who don’t use as many “formes de politesse” (expressions of politeness) are seen as extremely rude!
It is exactly what I have always thought about the French compared to the Swedes, and I know for a fact that a lot of Swedes in Brussels are thought of as rude because they don’t say good morning to everyone in the office, they don’t talk to everybody etc. My former Spanish boss always laughed at me when I would “barge” into her office to ask her something instead of pausing to say hello, how are you etc, but I was just trying to be efficient! I have learnt though and now I try to not be so “damn efficient” and use a few expressions of politeness before saying what I need to say. I also think that it is a matter of shyness, Swedes are more shy which some people take as rudeness or coldness.
In a big office building such as mine, you should say “Bonjour” when you pass somebody in the corridor or when you enter an elevator, “Au revoir/Bon appetit/Bon week-end” when you get off, even if you have no idea who the people are. In the supermarkets it’s a never-ending “Bonjour, merci, bonne journée” which I guess is nice but it stresses me! And we shouldn’t talk about the American “Hi, how are you” when you enter a shop – do they really want to know how I am?? [well, actually today I’m feeling a bit sick/depressed/whatever…] I think that I prefer the Swedish way, where you have to run around a shop trying to find somebody who might help you if they don’t think that it is below them to do it!!
In a busy club here in Brussels one night I was trying to fight my way through the crowd at the bar and to get the bartender’s attention – when he finally looked at me, I blurted out “two beers please” (I did say “please”, in Sweden you wouldn’t even do that!) and he stopped and said, “Hello, I’m not a robot, can you be a bit more polite please” – so I said “Good evening, how are you, can I please have two beers”… no wonder it took so long to get served 😉 but I guess that he was right in a way!
Good or bad, but I am so much more polite nowadays when I go back to Sweden – when shopping I will say something like “Excuse me, would it be possible for me to ask a question” – the shop assistants just stare at me like I’m a freak [a polite one though]…