Saturday afternoon with Jenni, here for a week to make a documentary. She thinks that I need to get a job, and I dare say she’s right. She reminded me of a number she’d given me last November, when she was here soon after I’d arrived. It does, at least, make me think I have options, which is a good thing. I must ring it.

We sat outside a café on a pedestrianised street, near Carmel Market. We studied the menu and ordered, and, twenty minutes later, the waiter returned to the table to tell us he’d forgotten about us and what had we wanted? I’ve been here too long to find this exceptional, and, even though Jenni once lived in Jerusalem for three years, she thought the whole business was terrible and refused to leave a tip. A waitress came out to argue with her, but Jenni held firm. I don’t care, I’m not coming back here, she said, and I don’t suppose she will.

Dan is talented at choosing the right people to work at the Nahat, Marcel at the Olive Korner is terrific at looking like he’s happy to bring you a glass of wine, and Ulli at Lechem Vechaverim has good arms, but otherwise, I don’t know. Waiters tap their fingernail impatiently on the table and remind you, sternly, that the bill doesn’t include a tip, even as they hand you the menu. This seems, at best, rude, and the gratuity not a reward, but a tax on sitting down at a café. I should say this awful practice has been happening less over the year I’ve lived here, but maybe they recognise me or, possibly, I’m beginning to look more Israeli, and less like a tourist, so they think I don’t need reminding. I don’t really look Israeli, I still wear flowery shirts and linen shorts, not baggy t shirts that look like they’ve been found by the kerb.

Waiters and waitresses here are largely students at uni and, while they’re dreaming of their future life as corporate lawyers, or biochemists, or Nobel prize winners, they seem to resent serving people to earn money, as if it’s beneath them, not one of the nobler callings that it actually is. The world has plenty of programmers, it doesn’t have plenty of people who make you feel welcome. So they look at you with a mixture of resentment and indifference, if they look at you at all, and you try to be a good customer, but your patience is rarely rewarded.

I gave up asking for tea quite soon after I arrived. Firstly, it doesn’t matter how long you leave the bag in, it will always be pointlessly weak. Secondly, however often you say you want cold milk, or how emphatically, even once you’ve learned how to say it in Hebrew, they will bring a tiny metal jug of hot, then look at you in a very specific way when you send it back. Or not. Mostly they don’t give a shit either way. I know that drinking tea with milk of any temperature isn’t the custom here, but there are enough tourists for it not to be so unusual and, anyway, isn’t it part of the job to listen to what people ask you for?

An hour after I learned my mother had died I found myself outside a café I had, until that day, been to often. I wanted to gather my thoughts, and try to collect myself as well as I could. All I needed was a place to sit down and some quiet. The young waiter, who had seen me many times and who was possibly even more stoned than usual*, casually handed me the menu in Hebrew. I asked him twice for the English version, and eventually, irritably, I was obviously harshing his vibe, he gave me another Hebrew menu.

I asked for tea with cold milk, and you’ve already guessed he brought hot. He put down a sandwich different to the one I’d asked for, yet I ate much of it. When I was ready to leave I looked for him, and waited twenty minutes for him to re-emerge from inside. My mind, obviously, was elsewhere, and I understand he didn’t know how my day had been going, but still, a little efficiency wouldn’t have hurt. I went to find him. He was inside, gossiping and rolling a joint. He grunted, annoyed at the interruption, and went to get the bill. I put the exact amount down. He glared and reminded me that a tip wasn’t included. I said that I knew that, and left.

Today’s word: chalav kar – cold milk – חלב קר

*You may not know that you can get high on mary jane fumes just by walking the streets of Tel Aviv. This is, for all its tech start-ups, and innovation, a hippy city

8 thoughts on “Waiters

  1. This is all very funny and horribly sad at the same time.

    I told you a few times before, I hate restaurants. Hate waiting for food at the table when I’m hungry . Hate waiting for the bill when I’m full.

    But everything you wrote is spot on true.

    I believe the root cause of the problem is the extremely low wages in the sector. Workers just don’t care and have zero motivation

    Liked by 1 person

      1. When things turn sour, manners are the first thing that go out the window. Ever worked as a waiter? To an Israeli crowd? For minimum wage?

        Think about it.


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