Thursday, November 8, 2007

In which our intrepid hero belies his own snootiness

So today while my Wills and Trusts professor amplified on the minutia of Mark Rothko's estate, I quickly but gradually and almost imperceptibly slipped into my own thoughts. Thoughts became dreams and soon I was on the verge of sleeping. You know Rothko, he was the one who painted all the squares and rectangles. Anyway, realizing that I had to do something to stay awake, I began browsing the NY Times online. I ended up, as I often do, at the "Dining and Wine" page (though half of it is Greek to me).

After learning about an interesting and potentially tasty but not so original way to make a burger, I found and loved this article, "Tonight, Patronizing Language. Enjoy". Being a lover of both food (gastrophile, for you lovers of latinate construction) and direct plain English (and a disparager of euphemism, circumdiction, and false eloquence), I was immediately intrigued. The article pokes fun at the peculiar language of servers, and how it creates a patronizing and presumptuous air. In particular, it observes how odd it is that nothing is eaten, but rather everything is "enjoyed." The author does a decent job of pointing out these foibles. He calls for more direct, frank form of address, calling a spoon a spoon and calling eating eating. He doesn't like all the presumption and the pretension:

Restaurantspeak dusts off hoary courtesies, as when a server asks if “the madam would enjoy a glass of white wine with her branzino.” That always sets my neck to swiveling. Did Sydney Biddle Barrows sit down and join us?

Be he completely undercuts his ethos of egalitarian frankness when he ends his piece with these lines:

I wonder if a waiter who served me recently at an haute Chinese restaurant is paid by the joyful syllable. There was no end to what he wanted me and my companions to enjoy: the fried lobster, the braised pork belly, hot air. In regard to the last, he admonished us for recoiling from a bamboo steamer that was cooking baby vegetables in front of us.

“While the steam is rising,” he said, “you can enjoy the aroma.”

Or I can wait until tomorrow for my facial, and get it in an honest-to-goodness spa. That I might enjoy.

He's just an everyday guy, right? A plain man who prefers plain speech, a guy like everyone else. Then he reminds you that he's a fancy Manhattan restaurant critic who gets facials at a spa. And does so often enough that it is natural for him to daydream wistfully about it when he grows weary of the wait staff at "an haute Chinese restaurant."

And that is funny.

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