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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40: Saint-Ursanne in Pictures + Cafes

Swiss shutters are always picturesque.

Saint-Ursanne is a lovely place to visit if no reason other than that they are kind enough to print their tourism brochures in English, as well as the usual German, French and Italian. It is refreshing to look on an historical monument and not have to make up stories about it from our rough interpretations of non-anglicized leaflets.

One of Saint-Ursanne’s town gates.

Saint-Ursanne has preserved its medievalness by holding on to a non-franchise business model – this means, there is not a McDonalds in sight. The downside of a no-franchise model is that it immediately ups the cost of visiting here. Lunch for $40 a person, anyone? The upside is that the town retains its lovely charm. The lack of neon billboards is very likely the reason the place has such a serene ambiance.

There is, however, one food-related franchise allowed in – a Swiss franchise grocery store called Coop (pronounced koh-op), that sells lovely sandwiches for under seven francs, although it is closed on Sunday. A little convenience store opens on ‘Spanish business hours’ (closes for a two-hour lunch break), where tourists can bump up their blood sugar levels with chocolate and ice cream bars. For the more cultured, a wine and cheese shop is also open on Sunday.

Best to pack a lunch.  We long ago tired of funneling endless dollars into the Swiss restaurant industry, delightful as the restaurants are here, but still enjoy Swiss dining ambiance by whiling away some time over coffee and ice cream at street cafes. This town has a particularly charming outdoor cafe with the restaurant on one side of the street and the tables on the other, shaded by a large white awning tethered to twin rows of trees. The service was good, although the servers refuse to speak any English, and prattled on at us in French and German. We didn’t mind. When it comes to ordering coffee and ice cream, we are fluent in many languages.

A lovely shaded street-side cafe by the rue de quartier sits at the far end of this church grove. It is one of the best shaded eating spots in town.

95: More on Mulhouse

Hundreds of diners in Mulhouse's street cafes and not a single laptop in sight.

We had to leave Switzerland to get to Mulhouse, France, but this was not always a necessity. From 1515 to 1648, Mulhouse, then a free republic, was “an associate” of Switzerland, and did not formally join France until it went through some alterations by over-riding treaties with pretty names (Westphalia) and in 1798 voted itself into France during the early stages of the French Revolution. Basically, the residents said if there’s going to be guillotining, we want to be sure to be on the right side of the blade.

This kind of history always fascinates me, because it is a reminder that Europe is as tribal as Afghanistan, Africa and the scarier parts of Asia, not to mention the American aboriginal population. Yet somehow, France, Germany, Switzerland and the rest all managed to cobble themselves into nations and organize themselves to a degree where they were able to overwhelm other ‘nations’ that had less control over their tribalistic qualities.

We thought the Swiss and the Germans were serious about chocolate, but Mulhouse's chocolatiers take it to a new level. Do not miss the opportunity to try the local creme-filled chocolates. Ooo la la!

But back to Mulhouse: Is it worth the visit? Yes, it is, especially if you love museums, most of which I avoided due to my aforementioned intense allergy to boredom. This is the fault of my early education which was packed with field trips to museums where we mostly stood around in large packs waiting for a guide to finish explaining to us the importance of weaving in ancient populations. It was fine for a person so inclined toward textile history, but that is not for everyone, especially not for a bunch of eight-year-olds.

And while you are there be sure to taste the goodies from its numerous chocolate and pastry shops. They might be more responsible for the existence of the French national character than any past armed conflicts. The ice cream is not as good as Italy’s, but it is still delicious and proof that if the French understand anything, it is how to treat cream, sugar and all the good that flows from these ingredients.

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