MERCI without MERCY
A woman stands before me at the front desk. “Can you recommend a restaurant?”
“One of the best French restaurants in this town is right here at the hotel. Our chefs
are excellent. You won’t have a better meal anywhere, although you could certainly
pay a lot more elsewhere,” I say.
Throughout this chant, I am being careful to display my dimples.
“I had French food last month.”
“What kind of food would you like?” I smile.
“Anything?” I release a quiet little knowing snort.
She rolls her eyes, “Anything,” she repeats with exasperation, and looks at me as if I
might not understand the word. “I just want to put something in an empty stomach.”
But, from years of experience I know exactly where this is leading, and I know what
anything means. Anything means that the guest will systematically reject any and all
of the various cuisines I offer, until, by the grace of God, I somehow finally stumble
upon the one which she holds jealously protected, secretly in her heart.
“Do you eat sushi?”
“No. Sushi? Good God, NO.”
“There’s a pizza place across the street.”
“What kind of food would you like? It might be easier if...” I say encouragingly.
“We’d just like something close by, but good,” she snaps.
“Close by, but good. There is a Mexican place on the corner...” I suggest.
“No. Is there a good little Italian restaurant which you can recommend nearby?”
“No, I’m sorry. For Italian, for real Italian, you really have to go to North Beach.”
She looks at me as if this might somehow be my fault. And I can see her point of
course. When they asked me—Edward, where should we put all the good little Italian
restaurants?—I should have said, ‘Why don’t you put most of ‘em in North Beach, but
I’d like to have one really good one placed within a block or so of this hotel.’
I guess I just wasn’t thinking at the time.
“There’s nothing I could recommend near here,” I say.
“There are no good Italian restaurants within walking distance?” She can’t believe it.
She looks me in the eye and is convinced that I’m holding back. She’s knows there
must be several good Italian restaurants in the neighborhood, but I’ve decided to
make things difficult for her. I’ve decided to mess with her. I’ve decided to run her all
over town in search of a good Italian restaurant, while I remain here, behind the
desk, snickering, taking evil delight in her plight, and stuffing my face with carbonara
from the place next door.
“Not that I’d recommend,” I say. “You’d really have to go to North Beach.”
“Well, what do you recommend?” she snaps.
“No. Thai...no. I’ve never liked Thai.”
Against my own better judgment I let out a little laugh. I recognize square one when I
see it again. I take a deep breath. I smile. I pause. I try to find the joy in this.
“What kind of food would you like?” I ask again, without sighing, and without barking.
“How’s this place across the street?”
“I’ve never been there.”
“You’ve never eaten in the restaurant across the street from you?”
“Well have you HEARD anything about it?”
“They are our neighbors, Madame,” I say. My words are overflowing with a message
which no one could possibly miss, but which somehow gets lost in the distance
between my lips and her ear.
I shrug in a manner which says, ‘Madame, you are placing me in a difficult position.’
She continues to stare, so I say, “It would be difficult for me to recommend any place
in which I haven’t eaten.”
“Well, thank you. Thank you very much,” she says sarcastically. “What is your
“My name is Edward.”
“Well, thank you very much, EDWARD, you’ve been utterly useless,” she says.
I say nothing, recognizing that it fits in so nicely with the utterly useless theme. And I
smile an utterly useless little smile.
As an employee at the hotel, I’m not allowed to say anything which every fiber of my
being urges me to say in a situation like this. There are many things I could say, but,
all of them would be inappropriate; correct and perfectly justifiable, but inappropriate.
In the desk clerk-as-peon/guest-as-royalty arrangement, any response I could come
up with would be considered out of line.
For my bullheaded unwillingness to give this guest what she asked for—to either
recommend a place in which I have never set foot or a good Italian place within 30
paces of where we stood at that moment—I should, of course, be hung. Had the
hanging taken place before her arrival however, it would have been a kindness to
both of us.