Mon rouleau de dîner est sur le point de brûler en bas votre restaurant
My Traveling Companion and I spent the day tramping through the oldest parts of Quebec City, which meant we spent lots of time climbing up and down sharp hills and steep staircases. Five solid hours of this left us pretty worn out, so when we returned to our hotel this afternoon we decided that instead of going out again, we would simply have dinner at the large, fancy-looking Chinese restaurant next door.
Every single person we’d met in Quebec thus far spoke English better than the average American high-school student, so I decided to take the French phrasebook out of my overstuffed purse and leave it back at the hotel. Naturally, this resulted in the Chinese restaurant’s having the only wait staff in all of French Canada where everyone speaks English as badly as I speak French.
The menu didn’t have English translations either, but the restaurant had a buffet option and I didn’t need a phrasebook to know the French word for buffet (“buffet”), so we were able to order without too much difficulty.
The buffet had an entire small table that held various types of bread and rolls, and a miniature version of the conveyor-belt ovens you sometimes see in pizza restaurants – put your bread on one end of the conveyor belt, and by the time it emerges out the other end of the oven it’s nicely toasted. I put a dinner roll on the conveyor belt and went to get some butter (“beurre”).
When I returned, I expected to see my toasted roll waiting for me in the oven’s catch basin. What I saw instead was an empty catch basin and a few thin wisps of smoke wafting out of the oven.
Uh-oh. The dinner roll was maybe one-sixteenth of an inch too thick to make it through the oven; the conveyor belt carried it to the halfway point, where it got stuck. I couldn’t possibly reach it myself, so I went looking for a waitress to help me.
I couldn’t find one (side note: I’ve eaten in four Quebec City restaurants since last night, and by American standards every one of them has been hopelessly understaffed), but I did eventually find a teenage busgirl adding croutons to the salad bar.
“Pardonnez-moi,” I said to her, and pointed to the bread table. “My bread is stuck in the oven.”
She repeated the only word she’d understood – “Bread?” – and turned to get more from the kitchen.
“Non, non,” I said, and gestured toward the oven on the bread table. “My bread – ma pain – is burning – uh, c’est fumée, – no, dammit, that means it’s smoking – c’est stuck in the oven …” Finally, I trailed off and gestured for her to follow me to the bread table.
I do not know the meaning of whatever she cried out when she looked inside the oven, but she turned some knobs and flipped some switches to cut the power while a teenage boy arrived on scene with a pair of tongs. The two of them eventually extracted what looked like a smoldering charcoal briquette, and the boy started to offer it to me before he caught himself and threw it out instead. Since I couldn’t recall the French phrase for “I’m sorry” I instead offered a meek smile and said “Pardonnez-moi, merci, pardonnez-moi.”
Considering the bad reputation Americans already have in foreign countries, I really, really hope they thought I was from Toronto.