Sunday, 30 April 2017

A vegetarian gives me a useful lesson

It’s always salutary to be taught a lesson about your own character.

When the process comes in combination with an excellent meal, the experience becomes invaluable in so many ways. He wins every point, some ancient once said, who mixes the useful with the agreeable. And that was certainly the case here.

It’s not easy to be a vegetarian in Spain. When one of my sons, then still a vegetarian, first moved to the country his announcement that he wanted a vegetarian meal would be greeted by waiters with the statement, “Yes, sir. How would you like your potatoes?” But ten years on, things have changed. Today, in Valencia, which we’re visiting with a vegetarian friend, there is quite a choice not only of vegetarian but even of vegan restaurants.

We booked for one to celebrate my wife’s birthday. When we turned up, however, the manager could find no trace of the booking. At first she denied it had been made but then, as she carried on talking to our daughter-out-law who’d made the reservation, a terrible awareness grew on her.

“It was me, wasn’t it?” she asked, “I spoke to you on the phone.”

In the end she apologised profusely and with great unhappiness. “Come back tomorrow,” she implored us, “the meal will be on me.”

But I was in no mood to be forgiving. I was tired – it had taken us the best part of half an hour to walk to the place – and hungry – the Spanish like to eat late by my standards – and I was in no mood to tolerate poor service.

“Come on,” people kept saying to me, “everyone makes mistakes. After all, you can’t claim never to make any, can you?”

These are people who’ve known me far too long for me to get away with any such claim. Besides, I pride myself on recognising my mistakes and trying to learn from them. So I limited myself to grumbling about bad TripAdvisor reviews.

The next day, I kept demanding that we phone to confirm the reservation before we walked back to the restaurant. But no one did. There was general if unspoken consensus that we ought to trust the manager and that, however much I might want to bear my grudge, as a group we weren’t going to.

And I must admit they and not I were wholly right. We turned up and were shown straight to our table, not even by the manager but by another waitress. She smiled, sat us down and told us the menu they’d planned for us. It was excellent.

The Restaurant Manager
Warmhearted, kind, friendly.
Not at all a suitable object for my resentment
When the manager appeared, I attempted to explain to her that we’d pay for the meal, and when she refused, that we would at least pay for the wine. She refused that too and when she went so far as to place a kiss on my cheek, I really couldn’t maintain any further resentment against her.

Why, she even served my wife a slice of a cake with a candle on it as a belated birthday greeting.

In the end we did the opposite of a runner: we fled the restaurant having left enough money on the table to cover at least the wine and the service.

My TripAdvisor review is, of course, outstanding. After all, I’ve had a great meal. And an invaluable lesson in what tolerance really means, when you live it instead of just paying lip service to it.

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