There is a particularly sullen breed of West African waitress you will encounter that seems strangely common for a service industry. They move in a despondent slouch, to the plodding accompaniment of their flip flops. In a land where loads are borne on the head, walking, by necessity can only be done with grace and poise – I have even seen this maintained whilst hitching up skirts to have a slash by the roadside whilst balancing a fully loaded, huge metal bowl on the head. They lurk by your side in a smileless slump, awaiting your demands, the concept of a greeting or a simple, “what would you like”, obviously some alien lexicon. My jolly bonjours evaporate into the silence of the oppressive heat, or if I am lucky, wafted away by the rattle of an ineffectual ceiling fan. At this point you have to realise that, unless you are in a posh restaurant, the menu you are handed is a Booker Prize winning work of fiction or, at best, a wish list of dishes that over a period of several years may be served up at one time or another. Hence, you have to ask what there is to eat, to which they will grunt the name of a dish, so you say, “yes please” and a few more exchanges will yield some kind of accompaniment. They will then stare at you incomprehendingly until you reconfirm that is what you would like to eat. Invariably you will later notice other customers eating different dishes which didn’t justify the effort of informing you about. On paying the bill someone will be dispatched on the herculean task of finding some change, by which time the urge to say “merci, au revoir” has probably faded from my thoughts and I will depart.
I will say one thing in their defence: their manner may well be a result of the way they are treated by their usual customers which can seem to be indifference, bordering on contempt at time. Us Europeans tend to greet even toilet cleaners with a certain zest and the happy, “bonjour, ca va” required for all encounters in the street is often not extended to serving staff.