On my most cynical days, I fear that introverts will never be understood by their extroverted peers. One phenomenon that causes me to despair of being accepted as I am is the prevalence in any number of restaurants of that most dreaded of species: the overfriendly waiter. Their usual haunt is the tourist trap, those restaurants decorated with an overbearing hodgepodge of nautical gear, sports regalia, and/or 1950’s Hollywood memorabilia. I’m not sure why there is a high concentration of these sociable types in such places; perhaps they believe their customers are looking for an entertaining experience, rather than just a bite to eat.
I always know trouble is on its way when the first question out of a server’s mouth is “So, where you folks from?” Since I know I cannot just shrug and stare down at the table, having tried that before with somewhat hostile results, I meekly bleat out the answer, feeling put out before I’ve even tasted the food. I take solace in the fact that this person probably doesn’t realize how discomfiting this is to an introvert; answering personal questions put forward by a stranger, from the innocuous (“hot enough for you?”) to the deeply private (“what color underwear are you wearing?”), is a keen sort of torture for most. More to the point, small talk is not the reason I have entered this dining establishment. My number one reason for doing so, strangely enough, is to procure food to eat, followed closely by the need to sit quietly and carry on a whispered conversation with my dinner mate.
At such times, I think longingly of the meals I’ve eaten in France, a country that generally understands the need for discretion in these circumstances. With certain waiters, a nod can speak volumes, and a wordless understanding of their guests’ every need is a skill they’ve perfected. These dear folks are content to simply present the options, answer questions and take your order, and then largely disappear for the rest of the meal, excepting when the food arrives, and the moments when he or she unobtrusively brushes baguette crumbs from the tabletop to make room for the crème brülée.