Few cultural stereotypes are more pervasive than the surly French waiter.
Guillaume Rey isn’t rude.
He’s just French.
That’s what the server argued in a discrimination complaint against a Vancouver, B.C., Milestones Bar + Grill restaurant and its parent company, Cara Operations, in the wake of his firing in August.
While the manager maintains that Rey was popular among customers, he claimed the French server was “combative and aggressive” toward his co-workers.
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Rey alleges the manager’s accusations are a form of “discrimination against my culture,” which “tends to be more direct and expressive,” according to his complaint.
He also said he was fired because of his “direct, honest and professional personality,” which he developed during his time in the French hospitality industry. It’s unclear when Rey came to Canada from France.
While Milestones and its parent company tried to get Rey’s complaint tossed out, tribunal member Devyn Cousineau denied their request and paved the way for Rey’s complaint to move forward.
Cousineau wrote in her March 7 decision that Rey would have to provide “evidence about what exactly the stereotype is with respect to people from France.”
Few cultural stereotypes are more pervasive than the surly French waiter. In the 1985 movie “European Vacation,” Chevy Chase and his family meet a Parisian garçon who, after insulting the brood, offers them dishwater to drink.
Even the French have agreed that their service workers could use an attitude adjustment. In 2013, the Paris tourism board and local Chamber of Commerce collaborated on an ad campaign to encourage waiters, taxi drivers and others to be more polite to international guests.
They created a website and a six-page booklet, “Do You Speak Touriste?,” which included helpful tidbits: British guests like to be addressed by their first names; Americans eat dinner at 6 p.m. and spend a lot of time on their cellphones.
“The line that ‘I am French so I am rude,’ well, that is not a defense,” said Edith Boncompain, vice president for education at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York.
She was born in Lyon and lived in Paris for four years. “I’ve never noticed people being rude to me,” she said.
According to the complaint, which made headlines this week, Rey is from France and began working at Milestones in October 2015. When he was hired, he signed a letter acknowledging that being rude to a guest or co-worker would be grounds for dismissal.
Neither Rey nor Cara Operations returned calls seeking comment. But in the complaint, Rey’s bosses contend that, while he was well-liked by guests and good at his job, he was told in April 2017 to watch his temper.
Three months later, in July, he “was directed not to have any more fights with staff or management.”
By August, his relationships at the restaurant had deteriorated. A co-worker got into an argument with Rey and claimed this caused him to “have issues with his anxiety.” Rey was fired Aug. 14.
In his discrimination complaint, Rey also cited his high standards, which he learned in the French hospitality industry.
It didn’t take long for some writers to come to Rey’s defense. Indeed, there is a history of extolling the virtues of snobbery among French waiters.
The Wall Street Journal proclaimed in 2015 that despite being inflexible and brutish, “the French waiter still provokes gasps of admiration from those who appreciate his singular style.”
Anthony Peregrine, who covers travel for The Telegraph and lives in France, wrote this week that Rey was only doing his job. He described hospitality in Britain and other English-speaking countries as “soppy.”(Never mind that whole swaths of Canada are heavily influenced by French culture.)
“The fact is that we, in Britain and our former colonies, don’t take waiting seriously,” Peregrine wrote. “It’s what we do before something proper turns up.”
Rey, he insisted, was merely being himself.
“It wasn’t his fault that they couldn’t cope with his higher standards,” he wrote.
Even so, Boncompain said that Parisians, in particular, had become more welcoming in recent years, allaying the concerns of travelers and international guests.
“They are reassuring,” she said of stereotypes. “That is why they persist. But you don’t have to really get to know a person, understand them, if you rely on a stereotype.”
The founder of B.C. Talents, an organization that helps French workers integrate into the B.C. workforce, told CBS News that cultural difference are common.
“The culture in Canada, it’s a nonconflict culture, particularly in the professional area,” said Julien Mainguy. “Most of the French-speaking people from Europe, they tend to be very direct.”
If French workers want to advance in their careers, he said, they must try to adapt to Canada’s workplace culture.
“They have to understand how they get perceived by the Canadian people and not just do what they used to do in France or in Europe,” he said.