Sunday 22 June 2014

Berlin: They brought their 'Big-Man' Complex with them

To the lettered in Berlin
Many years ago, I was through a relation of mine, a guest of the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, the experience was a complete culture shock to me. I was picked up from my hotel and as we accessed the consulate everyone; the staff and some other visitors were genuflecting with insipid subservience, it was too sickening for words. I had entered a big-man time capsule that I do not think was encouraged by the ambassador himself.
I was respectful but quite dignified as someone suggested I should only speak when spoken to, not where I particularly come from or how I was brought up, I’m afraid. The ambassador was welcoming, friendly, without airs and engaging.
It was clear that he craved the company of fellow countrymen who could hold a decent conversation without the excesses of the fawning we call ‘respect’, nor was I there for some quid pro quo activity or politics, so we spoke freely as if we were old friends, it was such a pleasure to meet him.
Of the feted in Berlin
In another place and setting in Berlin, one can only imagine a restaurateur encounters this problem more frequently than most, but it got a good few of us quite irked as we tried to restore some order.
Running a restaurant is hard enough and having returning customers must speak for quality and service, at least in my case, both do matter and there are times where the absence of good service has informed whether I can really overlook that for the quality.
They booked a table for 10 for 4:00PM but did not arrive until 90 minutes later; you may call it African time, but surely not in Germany, they arrived without as much as informing the restaurant that they’ll be running late and when they did arrive it was just 6 of them.
Distributed Denial of Service
This inadvertently is a like an Internet Denial of Service attack, because reservations mean the tables cannot be allocated to other customers and depending on the demand, the proprietor stands to lose income if those who booked the reservation arrive late or never show up.
In the hotel business, at least, they have the option to charge the first night of a reservation if there is a no-show and then allocate the room to new custom for the next night, but that does not apply to restaurants.
Without apology, they sat and began to throw their weight around, expecting obsequiousness and fawning like they were accustomed to in Nigeria, they began to reconfigure the a la carte menu to their particular tastes as the co-owner waitress patiently accommodated their indecisive and indulgent needs as my irritation at their demeanour began to rise.
Whine on wine
When they finished their meal, they ordered wine, as if that should come after meals, but that is beside the point, being moneyed does not necessarily mean being cultured. As the bottle was presented by another waitress they called out the co-owner waitress-manager and complained that the waitress was not smiling whilst serving them, somehow they felt they were not being fussed over enough.
I had joined some gentlemen at another table as we were watching a football match and we thought amongst ourselves that that was the very wrong way to express displeasure at service if ever it was bad service. As long term customers going back years, we have never had reason to complain about service at this restaurant, but there goes.
Typically incalcitrant
Now, I had overheard the restaurateur inform them when they arrived that he had another reservation for 12 guests from 7:00PM, they also arrived a bit late, but he had forewarned the seated party that they might have to move tables when the larger group arrives.
By this time, they had more or less settled in, rearranged chairs and comfortably reclined to their wine watching the game. The restaurateur then approached them to say his booking had arrived and they would have to move, the number that was supposed to be 10 had now whittled down to 4 occupying the space for 12.
At the very least in a small seating restaurant, one would have expected them to be considerate, rather they decided they were being treated shabbily and without respect, abruptly demanded the bill.
The restaurateur tried hard to reason with them and placate them to no avail that we in my group got involved, offering them our seats as we readied to move to another part of the restaurant.
I don’t really care who you are
Then that supercilious Nigerian statement was made, “Do you know who we are?” I was having none of it, who were they? I later learnt, one of the number was supposedly a major general in Nigeria, but we are in Germany.
Typical Nigerian ‘Bigmanism’ an inability to moderate the delusions of grandeur and inflated sense of worth that associates with position and means in Nigeria once they have left Nigeria for other countries, especially European countries.
Much as I can be a reserved Englishman, I can well be a rather obstreperous Nigerian too as I told them off one at time in Yoruba, inferring the Yoruba saying that they were like kids whose first taste of stew had it spilling all over their clothes.
Adjusting to the situation
At which point, they realised that ‘Bigman’ card was not going to work in this restaurant, the other gentlemen with me half placated all of us as they tactfully reprimanded them. We live in Europe not cowering and fearful of people and this was not the place to be intimidated, regardless of what rank or means they had in Nigeria.
They moved and settled down before one of their number came to chat to me and I simply said, whatever their grievance, we were customers too and it was important they realised they were in an international setting that just happens to be serving Nigerian cuisine. There was a need to temper their need for fawning with some appreciation of time, manner and place.
He acquiesced, as we conversed in Yoruba, which meant he fully understood everything I said and it probably hit home, we cracked a few jokes, they paid up and left. We sighed with relief and much as one might have wanted to put some fault at the door of the restaurateur, we realised he must run the gauntlet of such nonsense, probably daily, some customers just need to be put in their place.
For this lot, all they deserved was good service and good food, which I believed they received, they’ll have to travel back to Nigeria to be waited on like royalty.

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