Friday, July 23, 2010

I Dined and Dashed

I could have spent the last decade in an Italian prison, instead of Middle America. The father of a high school friend once warned us before a day trip to Canada of the big loophole in foreign travel: they can hold you as long as they want before your trial. Two glasses of wine in Venice and I completely disregarded his sage advice.

I was fortunate, while teaching abroad, to be placed on the southern border of Austria, surrounded by beautiful mountains, and only a few hour's train ride from Venice, Italy. I planned a special trip with two of my most important visitors from home, to go to Venice for the first day the Venetians would begin appearing on the streets in their fantastic Carnival costumes. The pedestrian-only city, a web of alleys, canals, and stone bridges, is by itself a place that inspires the imagination. Adding these elaborate and elegant costumes made the whole place seem like a movie set or Wonderland.

One of the most striking costumes we saw.
We got lost in the sites, wandering the city until we realized it was late afternoon and we were getting really hungry. We found this pizza place situated right along a canal, with patio seating where we could bask in the sun, and marvel at the city around us. We ordered our pizza, and for a mere $6, added a carafe of red table wine. We were always surprised by the relative inferiority of Italian pizza, but the thin crust and cheese tasted great to our hungry palates, and the wine was the perfect splash to wash it down.

We had noticed the slight coldness we were getting from our waiter earlier, but it became most evident when we were ready for the check. It took quite a while to get his attention to even bring it. We were still enjoying the pleasant location and rehashing our morning, so we were pretty patient while we waited. Once we got the bill, we did our best to sort out who owed how much, and to put together the payment in Lira, along with a reasonable tip. Our bills didn't match up, and the result would have been a $15 tip for the waiter, whose kindness to us certainly wouldn't account for that much generosity. We waited for him to return so we could ask for change. And we waited. And we waited.
Note the empty table, the meal long-finished

It is really hard to guess how long we waited, because we had, after all, consumed a carafe of wine together. It felt like at least a half hour. The waiter never returned. Our afternoon in Venice was withering away. We could just leave, but we would have to make a choice whether to over-tip him substantially (especially by European standards), or under pay the bill by $5. We chose the latter and took off down the alley with the adrenalin-rush of young people who knew they were doing wrong. We could have just walked away, the waiter was obviously not going to come check our receipt with any urgency, but we were stealing and we didn't want to get caught.

We experienced some pretty lousy service at a stateside pizza joint last night, proving in some measure how universal it is that human beings don't really want to wait on one another. We had to beg for napkins, utensils, and refills. I'll give her credit, though. She was prompt with the bill. Wise woman.

Give everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:7

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