Waiters in French restaurants are consummate professionals. They hold their noses way up high and they have courtly manners. They say things such as "A votre service" (At your service) or "Je vous en prie" (I pray thee) and "Je vous propose" (I propose to you... such and such a dish). They know exactly what goes into each dish and will be able to discourse knowledgeably about the various merits of each, and they might even ask a few questions to get to know your tastes before they propose anything. And they call me "Madame", each time with a slight nod of the head and an imperceptible discreet bow.
Their every action is smooth and elegant. And they are most certainly NOT at the beck and call of the customer. On the contrary, these professionals know without looking when you have finished your plate, and come by your table without being asked. They know exactly when not to bother you and they will even make polite conversation with you if they think you feel like talking. In the Singaporean context, they aren't waiters. They're Personal Food Consultants.
However, all this consulting takes time and the guest must learn patience. Whilst they are with you, their attention is on you and on no other, and they will freeze with a haughty stare the impolite guest who dares to intrude into the moment that Mr Waiter is at present sharing with another guest. You see, you are a not merely a client at his restaurant, you are a paying guest and he is your host. And there are rules of courtesy governing the behaviour of both parties, and if one should flout these rules, the other is well within his rights to be offended. And you will find yourself very soundly snubbed from then on. No more polite conversation for you! People who have experienced being snubbed by a French waiter, could well have unknowingly broken some rules regulating social behaviour in France.
So, in a French restaurant, you learn to be patient. Everyone is there to have a lovely evening and so everyone lingers to enjoy food and conversation. And Mr Waiter treats everyone special, including you, when it's your turn.
This is something that Little Boy is unused to. In Singapore, we expect service staff to come immediately when we call. So, when Little Boy has to wait for the plates to be cleared, polite conversation to end, and dessert to be served, he becomes very impatient. The Daughter has it all figured out though. She leans across and whispers "People here linger over their food. You must learn to linger."
In truth, I don't mind this lingering business because one simply wants each mouthful to last forever and the children have grown old enough to be funny and knowledgeable. They're great conversationalists, our kids.