6: Keeping Tradition Alive or Our Last Visit With the Worst Waitress in the World

The only person I’ve met in 32 years who does not like Dave.

We’ve fallen into a Sheldon Cooper-esque pattern of doing the same thing the same night of every week.

At first we laughed at this The Big Bang Theory sitcom character’s designated hamburger night, pizza night, comic book night, and then we immediately moved to adopt it. There is no explaining this.

And so we now have Lollipop, Hamburger and Cheesecake days (Thursday, Friday and Sunday), while Saturday is reserved for our Wretched Waitress event. At Joran’s, a waterfront restaurant with the best seating to be found in Switzerland’s Mitteland lake district, is succulent beef tenderloin with red pepper sauce, exquisite pasta, fabulous local fish and the best ice cream in Switzerland.

Dave,  about 20 minutes after we had finished eating and were still waiting for the bill.

Balancing out this ‘best of’ list is a woman who may be the worst waitress in the world. We have eaten at enough restaurants in both hemispheres to hazard this assumption.

She refuses to accept our orders in English, French or even the universally accepted restaurant sign language, which is comprised of us pointing to items on the menu.

She growls at us in German, employing tones that remind us less of Hogan’s Heroes and more of those flecked Second World War newsreels.

And then she makes us wait. And wait. And wait. This happens every week, and yet we keep going back. She has become our grumbly Germanic aunt, whose company we enjoy if only because we can rely upon her uniformly dour countenance. She mystifies us.

Last week, she told me ‘no more French, only German.’

Our waitress (white top) flees into the restaurant after I wave her over.

I would like to report that my feeble attempts at German were welcomed with some coaching from her, but instead she glared at me as I dragged out my German vocabulary (five words). And then, because I was flummoxed, I sprayed out Spanish. All my friends who have been subjected to my so-called Spanish can tell you this will only make matters worse.

This week, the mere sight of us caused her to shake her head in disgust. She huffed through a punishing food-ordering spectacle, then proceeded to serve everyone else, even those who came long after us.

Dave taking a nap while waiting for our bill. Will we ever see our wretched waitress again?

While we waited to order our dessert, she engaged in a spirited and joyful conversation with two German ladies seated near us, and then when I waved to get her attention, she spun away and disappeared into the restaurant.

I wish I was exaggerating about this.

Then we waited an interminable time before we finally got up and went inside to pay our bill. She punched our numbers into the cash till, then before giving us the bill turned to pour two glasses of water, then dump them in the sink, then turn and give us the bill. I asked her if she spoke any English at all.

“Nien!” she exclaimed. She had not directly looked at us for over an hour. That is some feat when serving a meal and taking payment.  I tried to say good-bye, to let her know we’re returning to Canada. It seems wrong to not mark the occasion of our last visit by letting her know that her long period of torment is coming to a close.

That was yesterday. It is now Starbucks Sunday, and we are about to make the two-block stroll there for some cheesecake, which the staff say is specially shipped in from Pennsylvania. That is a good thing. We need a little of that good’ol American home-taste to wash away the emotional wreckage left over from Wretched Waitress day.

For those wondering why we kept going back there: In Swiss restaurants, you can get great service often, mediocre service occasionally and  bad service rarely, but service that falls within the “hostile” category is something to behold. That, and the fabulous ice cream is why we keep going back.

If you go: Skip the tarte flambe’ and order a simple ham, salami and cheese sandwich which is served on thick slabs of fresh-baked bread.

The chocolate, pistachio and banana ice cream flavors are exceptional and often served on a bed of sliced bananas or crushed pistachios. For supper, you cannot go wrong with the beef tenderloin, which the Swiss boast is pasture-fed and antibiotic/chemical-free. The restaurant specializes in fresh local strawberries, ice cream and cream desserts, but that is recommended only when the season peaks, usually in early-to-mid June.

Do not fear the wait-staff. But for this one waitress, the rest speak at least some English, are very friendly and competent. 

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65: Fabulous restaurant under our noses

BIEL/BIENNE, SWITZERLAND: Tour de Romandie travels with their own on-board laundry equipment plus two semi trucks full of bikes, staffed with bike mechanics, massage therapists, travel managers, the works. Had I known this is what it takes to get a washing machine in Switzerland, I would have paid more attention to my bike-riding skills. Photo: Joanne Hatherly

We discovered two things yesterday:

  1. The best steak in town has been under our noses all along. The hotel treated us to a free day of dining as a generous thank you for some help out of a little fix, hence we braved the priciest item on the menu. If you are travelling through Biel, and you have a passion for a truly great beef tenderloin, foie gras and sauce, stop at La Barrique in the Mercure Hotel.
  2. Tour de Romandie racers (including Lance Armstrong’s former team) travel with their own laundry equipment. Given my troubles locating laundry facilities, this does not surprise me a bit. How do I know this? The racers have taken over our hotel. They are a very quiet bunch – must be something to do with biking like mad over Switzerland’s terrain that knocks the stuffing out of them.

Our hotel staff treat us like royalty - first by puffing me up with delicious pastries, second by feeding us fabulous beef, and then letting us take over any part of the hotel we like. How could we not love it here?

A Countdown Queen + Her Calendars

Blame Christmas. I am a Countdown Queen.

Growing up, we didn’t have much money, which meant we didn’t have many toys, at least not compared to the other kids on the street, but what my brothers and I lacked in material possessions, we made up for with a hyperactive state of anticipation ratcheted up by our countdown vigilance toward Christmas day – our once-a-year toy haul. This may have been responsible for my mother hanging the phone receiver upside down for months at a time. No one knows for sure why she did this, but I think she was experimenting with it before twisting it around our necks.

As soon as Christmas rolled over we sprinted the countdown to New Years dinner at Grandma’s house, an unembarrassed snatch for hot homemade apple pies and tourtieres.

Then the marathon countdown to Easter was on, when we counted 100 days and more to the morning we would each get one chocolate rabbit. One. That was okay, because as soon as Easter was finished, the count was on to summer holidays. Lent? We didn’t need Lent. Deprivation was our natural state.

I was a somewhat above-average distance runner in my youth and here too, counting was the thing. Bouncing on my toes at the start line, I counted the racers who historically had been faster than me, counted those slower, counted down to the starting gun shot, counted the number of runners ahead of me, the number I passed, the number who passed me, the number of meters/yards we had raced, the number yet to come, and the magical final 300 metres/yards, my favorite part of the race when I passed as many on the track as I could (I have no ‘sprint’ in me so I had to drive hard over a longer distance at the end to come in the top three). Naturally, I counted down as I went. Racing was simply a living mathematical equation. It was lovely.

Catch me at any moment and I am counting down to something. I counted down the days to get to Switzerland, and as soon as I arrived, I started counting down the days to my return to Canada. This is only a microcosm of an entire life dedicated to countdowns.

Oprah counselled people to “live in the moment,” but what is the point of that? It can only be lived in once, and then it is done, but the moments ahead that can be looked forward to for ages, those moments are the ones stretched out. Why deprive myself of this joy?

And now, I’m at it again, counting down the days to our return to Canada, the land that I love, where I have half a clue what is being said to me, where I can afford to buy whole straps of beef tenderloin, where there is the best ice cream on earth, endless prairies, boundless skies, unfettered rivers and creeks, untamed ocean shorelines, lakes barely touched, and people who say sorry when they accidentally bump into you. I might just count them all.

This is not to say there is anything wrong with Switzerland, despite the fact it is a tad overpriced. It is a lovely country with wonderful, kind people, eye-busting vistas, and possibly the most punctual train service in the world, best expressed by the horror the Swiss display when a train is two minutes late. Two minutes. Maybe that’s why I like these people so much. They like to count, too.