The concept of ordering.

One of Moresby’s unexpected blessings is the food. If you’re of the income-bracket where eating out is affordable then you won’t be too unhappy – provided you like Chinese, which is the dominant cuisine. There’s a Japanese restaurant or two of pretty high standard – the sashimi is always fresh and the teppanyaki is cooked with all the necessary flourishes. There’s an above-par Korean joint and two Indian places, one of which is exceptional despite the strange setting. And of course there’s the pizza-pasta restaurant, the star attraction being the ever-present guy on the electronic keyboard. He plays Abba and The Beatles and apparently sings on request although I confess I lack the courage to ask.

The caveat of course is the service. It’s not bad or inattentive. Often it’s too attentive as we discovered at the Ela Beach Hotel last night, where the waiter even bequeathed a quick mately rub of my upper arms after sensing my growing disapproval at being asked for the fourth time in three minutes if we needed another drink.

On the other hand there is the pervading and seemingly inescapable confusion that afflicts waiters and waitresses here. This is not an across-the-board thing, and many service staff up here are utter professionals. But as Alan said while he was up here, some waiters and waitresses seem quite unfamiliar with concepts such as “ordering”. Often with a beer in hand and a light heart the experience can be comical and almost beautiful in its innocence – as patronising as it sounds it can be nice to witness the workings of people who are so utterly unfamiliar with the demands and expectations of what white people expect as a rigorous, unexceptional standards. However if the mood is wrong (on my part that is) the inexplicable and endearing becomes unbearable. Take the following exchange, made between us and the staff members at the sandwich and coffee bar at the back of the supermarket:

Hello. We’d like two BLT’s please.

OK… two bacon, lettuce, egg tomato sandwiches.

Oh. No egg. Bacon, lettuce, tomato.

No… egg… (you can see the tiny sparks flitting in her eyes as something short circuits inside).

That’s right, no egg.

OK… bacon, egg, lett…

No egg please. BLT. Bacon. Lettuce. Tomato. No egg please. (There is an audible snap, my own mind this time).

OK. Bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich.


Victory was short lived. The price on the menu, you see, must exist as indication only – a bit like the ‘serving suggestions’ on cereal boxes. This MAY be what it will be under IDEAL circumstances but chances are the real thing will be different and somewhat less pleasing. This was also the stage when I had to confine my interventions to one brief and muted outburst and let Kit do the talking – a talking that involved complete surrender to senselessness. I’ve heard that consumer protection laws are weak or non-existent here, so the notion of a listed price probably wouldn’t stack up in a court anyway. And, of course, the sandwiches came with egg in the end. It was a confusing meal, but not upsetting once inside.

At times the befuddlement causes panic. Once I ordered a dish with the typical bistro options – veggies and mash potato, or chips and salad. I opted for the the former option, only to be asked if I wanted rice. A giddy panic swept over me. Rice? RICE? It says veggies and mash or chips and salad. Where does the rice come into it? No thank you, no rice, just to be safe. But the fear had me in its cold clutches by then. I cancelled the order and got fettucini carbonara instead. Sometimes I just can’t risk it for curiosity’s sake. You learn to live like that up here, forever pestered by the fear of bent cops, murderous raskols, and glitch-riddled restaurant meals.

4 Responses to “The concept of ordering.”

  1. 1 Albion May 29, 2009 at 1:23 am

    So your fears all arrived on time then?

  2. 2 Vicki May 30, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    I’m jealous! Your choice of eating places rivals Charing Cross. Don’t think egg has ever been the issue here tho’.
    Denyse from Bronte PO says Hi! I promised, as you do with Denyse, (yes that’s how you spell it), to pass it on – under the threat of the evil eye!!!

    Preparing for a 160 page bumper issue George! … and the conference is coming, as is White Heat, TACA’s exhibition. Wish I was visiting you right now. The choices you have to make seem so much easier!

    Hope Kate is going well.

  3. 3 jazz June 9, 2009 at 12:10 am


    Bet it had nothing on a good old glow BLT 😦

    Missin ya Georgie Boy…

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