But it’s not really about breakfast. It’s about the humanity of a smile.
NOTE: I changed the name of the waiter to protect the innocent.
April 14, 8:00ish
I’m having breakfast at a brasserie. It is a partner with the hotel, so I can eat here or at the hotel using my voucher. I decided for my first morning, I’d go off site to see the city.
The buildings across the way have the most lovely wrought iron fences on the first story. The second and higher stories are set in a little, maybe five feet. I wonder how old that is? If that existed in the 1800’s, it would be great for Vivienne to jump from. Or Magdalena! [Future characters, My Dear Reader…]
Pause. Coffee. Pause.
I’ve ordered a traditional London breakfast. Poached eggs, back bacon, sausage, sautéed mushrooms, grilled tomato, backed beans.
I’m. In. Heaven.
OMG. There’s Blood Pudding!
So. Yeah. I don’t like blood pudding. I do, however love the sausage, back bacon, beans, mushrooms, tomato – and I can chew the coffee. It’s awesome!
As per usual, I got in trouble that morning. They said I could sit anywhere when I got into the restaurant. So I did. Apparently, I picked the ONE reserved table. There was a big sign on it, even. So of course, the waiter came by and asked me to move. He was thin and tall, handsome, with thick, short hair that was half salt and half pepper. Narrow featured, narrow shouldered, yet also aloof, as if he were a little detached from the rest of us. He was also a little…irritated. And he spoke to me, frankly, as if I was an idiot. Which I was. I was sitting at the reserved table with the Big Ole Reserved Sign I didn’t read.
I moved tables, but of course, I’m loud. And I get particularly loud when I’m embarrassed. So I’m laughing in my big, booming laugh and apologizing all over myself. I almost knocked over the table I moved to, bumping into it with my bag. Then, when I was trying to get myself settled, I knocked my fork on the floor. What follows, naturally, is that awful, metallic clatter when silverware hits tile. Sigh. More of my booming laugh and apologizing.
Basically, the entire restaurant was watching me. This often happens. I can’t help it.
Also, John the Waiter was looking down his nose at me as if I was not only an idiot, but had grown three heads and he wanted nothing more than to hustle me out the door. In his suit and apron, with that look on his face, I felt like an idiot.
This also often happens. I can’t help that either.
After the table debacle, I order coffee. Again, I’m laughing my booming laugh. “Make it as really big, as I’m super jetlagged.”
I got a very small, stingy half-smile from John the Waiter.
I decided to work on earning his good will back that week, because I was an idiot. So when I left, I made sure to hunt him down and say thank you.
Plus, everyone—particularly those in the service industry—deserve thanks for their work. I’ve been a waitress, and it’s a damn hard job.
April 15, 8:30 am
I’m here at breakfast now, again at the brasserie. I noticed on my walk people aren’t naturally friendly. It’s like New Yorkers – they are all on their way somewhere and in a hurry.
This is not true. I mean it is, in the fact that many people I came across that morning were on their way to work or another appointment, clearly. But it’s not true that the English as a whole aren’t naturally friendly. They are, so much so that I now consider London a home away from home. They were wonderful and welcoming!
I just wanted to clarify before we went any further lest I give you, Lovely Reader, the wrong impression from my journal entry. Now, read on…
Yet a street cleaner gave me a grin, said good morning, and said “It’s Friday, no?” Just like someone would in the US. And I find, just as at home, if you smile first, the person will almost always smile back. And just like at home, I hope my smile cheers up their day!
Which brings me to yesterday’s waiter, John. He was not friendly, though I did get him to crack a smile when I said I wanted coffee because I was a bit jetlagged. Today I came in, the little waitress said hello and recognized me. John – when I sat down I was facing the counter and he was there – he smiled. A real one. Very much a greeting of recognition and hello, and a friendly one at that. I couldn’t have been more happy! I just goes to show how kindness can go a long way – no matter what part of the world you are in.
John [the Waiter] is not English, btw. French perhaps? And I saw him washing the dishes, tie tucked between the buttons of his shirt, sleeves rolled up – and to my surprise, this serious, dour man has a line of text tattooed on his forearm. I wonder what it says? Something personal and profound, I hope. John seems to be a deep thinker.
The table beside me is two couples, clearly mother/father and grown daughter/son or daughter-in-law/son-in-law. I lean to d/s, as neither are wearing wedding rings. I think they speak Italian or Portuguese or Spanish. Can’t tell. But my waiter—who looks vaguely like a young Johnny Depp with side burns—spoke to them in a similar language that the daughter then translated for the family. Fascinating.
Also, they are talking about me right now, which is also fascinating. What are they saying? Look at that chunky little American scribbling in her notebook? If so, that is OK. I was just writing about them.
But I got a smile and a wave as they left. I can’t help but smile about that myself.
For now, it is time to put my big girl panties on and brave the Underground!
Seeing John the Waiter with his sleeves rolled up was very interesting. As with the rest of him, his forearms were thin and narrow. But there was strength there, in the muscles and tendons—probably from a lifetime of waiting. I say a lifetime because that man was efficient. There was nothing he did not see in that restaurant when it came to service of patrons and other staff.
It was the tattoo that really got me. I love tattoos, though I don’t have one myself. But I don’t love tattoos for the sake of a statement. I love tattoos that mean something, whatever it is, to the bearer of it. One can argue that every tattoo has meaning, of course, but some are also for shock value or any other number of reasons. Including drunken mistakes or peer pressure or the idiocy of youth.
But when a person has a tattoo such as that line of text on John the Waiter’s forearm, it usually means something important. I very much wish I had been close enough to read it. I’ll always wonder what it said, and what it would reveal about my aloof friend.
April 16, 9ish
Well, it was an interesting evening. I did, in fact, become “in”. Jackie and my Z-girl let me take a picture! So they shall soon become part of my blog. Which I to start soon—as soon as I get home!
Then I was hit on by a very, very drunk Irishman. Bless him. He could hardly stand, and his conversation was, at best, stilted, but he was a nice enough fellow. A regular it seems, as he’s been there all three days I have. And, as my fabulous Jackie said, I’m becoming a regular myself.
There was a bit more to this post that morning, going over my time at the pub the night before. But I met a lost soul that night who poured out their worries and problems into my sympathetic ear. I was stranger, a receptacle for secrets, who would never have to be faced again as I was going home to America soon. So I opened myself to their secrets, accepted them, and will keep them.
Everyone needs a place for secrets, particularly the ones that are told while drinking adult beverages.
More, I hope I helped.
But I still saw John the Waiter that day, even if I didn’t write about him. I remember specifically, because I was tired and later than usual after my evening out at the pub. I had coffee again, a big cup, then a second. And when that second cup was poured I saw John the Waiter watching me with a half-smile. Whether because he remembered how jet-lagged I was or because I was clearly a coffee-fiend, I don’t know. But I remember that little knowing smile, as if he knew why I wanted extra coffee.
April 17, 9:15
Just finished my eggs Florentine. I have about an hour before my Spencer House tour, so I’m going to get a move on. But let’s just say it is gloriously sunny and cool, and I can’t wait!
Though, I’m unutterably sad today to be leaving London. I’ve fallen in love with the city and it’s melting pot of people and history.
My darling London, I shall miss you!
I became a regular at the brasserie. Going in every morning for breakfast. But I never had the pleasure of John the Waiter being my server again, though he was there every single day. I discovered he wasn’t really a waiter, but a manager of some sort. He directed traffic, washed dishes, handled the replenishing of the cold buffet. Always with a cool demeanor, a sort of reserved and detached expression on his face. But he saw everything.
And every day I came in, he smiled at me. That smile grew each day so that by the end of my time there, he darn near grinned at me. All I did was use my manners, say thank you each day, smile and wave.
There is a saying that we don’t know what troubles others are having unless we are in their shoes. That’s true. But the fact is, sometimes we can change peoples’ lives with little more than a friendly smile. We can make someone’s difficult day better. Let them know you care, even if you know nothing of their troubles. The power of a smile can make strangers your friends.
On my last day in London, I stopped off at the counter for a personal thank you to John the Not Waiter. His smile and the “It was our pleasure!” returned to me was one of my favorite moments of London. It was heartfelt.
It doesn’t matter what country we are in, whether we are a Frenchman working in England or an American traveling to Europe—we’re all human. One of our most basic needs is to connect with other humans. A smile can do that. A genuine, sincere smile can make the world go round.
I hope the next time someone sits at the reserved table or drops a fork or says they are jetlagged that John thinks of me. And I hope he smiles because he met a silly American woman who scribbled in a black Moleskine notebook and drank gallons of coffee.
And also ate everything on her plate, every single day, like a good girl.
Love, love, love your journal posts, Alyssa! Such a personal, inside look at an American in London. And sooo You!
Your darling John-not-a-waiter is probably still smiling at the memory of you. I think you definitely made his mornings. I’m looking forward to more posts about our adventure. Thanks so much for sharing them.
I hope he’s still smiling! I wish I’d gotten a picture of him, but I guess he’ll just have to live in my memory and the pages of my journal.
I am so enjoying your posts. And you’re so right, smiles make the world go round. What an intriguing character John the not-waiter was! I’m sure he’s going to show up in one of your books, disguised maybe, but with the same mysterious demeanor. I’m glad that by the end of your time in London he was smiling back at you.
Oh, I definitely have plans for John the Not-Waiter. You can’t have such a mysterious, interesting man not get a mention!
Lovely! You make some very pertinent comments about London. When I have been back to England recently, I have noticed that a lot of people in the restaurants and hôtels are from Romania or Poland, if you ask them. They seem to work very hard.
Looking forward to your next posts.
I know the servers at the brasserie worked hard–very hard. Nothing was missed as far as napkins and silverware, and my coffee was never empty!
smiles can cross so many barriers… enjoyed this post…
There’s something so basic, and yet so intimate about a smile. We do as very young babies, and we do it until we leave this earth. And they always make me feel better!
I am loving these posts!
I guess you didn’t find out about his tattoo?
I didn’t, more’s the pity. But my imagination can come up with all sorts of things!
Glad you’re enjoying the posts, Lisa!
I want more! Even your journals keep me intrigued and wanting more of Alyssa Alexanders words! I can not wait for your next book!
The sign of a truly gifted writer: I feel like I know John; like we have a kinship of sorts, because I was a server once too!
I love your blog and I saved them until Saturday morning so I would have the time to enjoy them fully!
By the way, I am sure John had some pre-conceived notions about Americans. I am sure you changed those. Well done!
Your posts are wonderful, full of such detail I feel as if I’m there with you. You have a great eye for detail.