Thursday, August 2, 2012

A waiter who speaks English (2)

In a post one year ago I described the lovely experience of being served a meal by a waiter who: (1) spoke English instead affecting a combination of Valspeak, Likish and Ebonics; and (2) used good diction. He spoke English and used good diction because he grew up in Bosnia.

Last week my wife and I enjoyed another meal served in English, at a restaurant on Lake Winnipesaukee (pictured) in New Hampshire.

Our waiter was an affable young man from Brazil. Unlike many American waitresses, he had no facial piercings or visible tattoos. He spoke better English, with better enunciation, than many American valedictorians.

Instead of addressing us with the trashy, non-standard “you guys,” he called us “you.” Unlike most young Americans, he had learned the second-person plural personal pronoun in standard English.

Instead of using the Valspeak expression “Y’githe ahh thet?” (“You guys all set?”), he asked in standard English, “May I take your order?”

Later he asked, “How is everything?” (in other words, “How well did our chef prepare your food?”) instead of the insulting and absurd “How are you doing?” (in other words, “How skillfully are you eating?”)

When we appeared to have finished eating, he did not ask, “All set?” or “Are you still working on this?” or “Still pickin’?” He politely asked, “May I take this?”

When I had paid the check in cash, he asked, “Do you—” and stopped himself. Apparently he had realized that he had almost asked, “Do you need change?” just like an insolent American waitress hustling tips.

He was embarrassed. For two or three seconds, he had a strangled look on his face. I waited quietly. Finally, in a determined voice, he correctly said, “I’ll bring the change.”

Nice recovery. It was clear that he had been trained to be a waiter and a gentleman.

The Takeaway: The next time ugly diction and manners detract from your enjoyment, leave a copy of this guide on the table. And hand a copy, or email a copy, to the restaurant manager (two managers told me they had immediately incorporated the guide into their training programs). I have put the guide into the public domain; make and distribute copies as you see fit.

See disclaimer.


  1. Hi,

    I've enjoyed your blog for some time, but haven't actually left a comment!

    I love the point that's being made here. Grammar isn't just about being right or wrong (though there is that). It has to do with the word choices one makes and the effect they have. "Yous guys finished up?" is not only a grammatical nightmare; it reeks of overfamiliarity. It's one thing to be friendly; but another to sound trashy.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Perhaps terms like "youse," "you'll" (yawl), "you folks," and the current "you guys" indicate a felt need for a distinctive plural form of the prounoun "you" in modern English. I especially dislike "you guys" because I'm definitely not a guy. How long have we been campaigning against gender bias in language? The way I'd love to respond when addressed in a group as "you guys" is "That would be guys and dolls, please." Not that a good feminist would appreciate the appellation "dolls," but humor can sometimes be a gentle way to correct.

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