One photo a day until I meet Jonathan Harris

24th March

Green in blue or blue in green?

Seeing the first green leaves emerging on the soon to bloom chestnuts made me happy this morning, but by the evening I was feeling bluer than the clear blue sky I could see behind them.

How could I feel so bad on such a beautiful spring day?

It all boiled down to one number: 37.5. This is the cost in euros of two meals and a dessert at the restaurant where I work. It is the amount that two young customers walked off without paying. It is the sum that was deducted from my day's wages (36€) implying that I was actually owing money instead of having earned it.

Imagine working to owe money instead of earning it! I was in a state of shock, especially as I reasoned the net cost of the food served could not have been the full price of the bill. Surely an empathetic employer might be prepared to share some of this loss in an act of solidarity with a faithful employee. But disbelieving, when work finished I watched as the boss (or more accurately, the boss's wife) agreed that I pay what was owed with the meagre tips that were left to me.

As horrible as it might seem, I learnt from interviewing other waiters that this practice is part of the culture here: serveurs are expected to bear the full cost of any bills that their customers don't pay. This might certainly explain their typically serious, abrubt and somewhat stressed manner, but how did such a norm become established? As one serveur explained to me, if it weren't this way it would be trop facile for him to say that any number of customers walked off without paying. In this way, he could keep the money for himself and his boss would be none the wiser. Although the idea of doing something like this had never even occurred to me, and I questioned the long term success of any such plan, I could almost follow his reasoning.

Was my shock at having to pay the entire 37.5€ just a harsh dose of reality? A wake up call to the way the world really is? Possibly, but I couldn't help imagining that things could be otherwise. If I had the choice, I would much prefer to dine at a restaurant where the waiters aren't stressed and trust their customers; where the bosses trust their waiters and where people work together instead of working for one another. Wouldn't everyone? Surely there is a way to break this viscously entrenched spiral of distrust, or is my naive new-world idealism ignoring some harsh lessons that french culture has learnt the hard way?

Dreams and utopia's aside however, it might be better to work on solving my own problems before tackling those of society at large. How to turn this deep blue sea back into those green leaves of spring right now? Well, 37.5 can seem big or small, depending on how you add it up. If its just one number that's causing all these worries, then maybe its time I work on a personal definition of the term "creative accounting".

After all, isn't that what the billboard said? Aimez sans compter.