The Waiter’s Most Vile Practice

Slate writer Christopher Hitchens is ranting about a “vile practice” of waiters across America—but the behavior that gets his goat probably isn’t what you’re thinking. The habit that he finds so obtrusive and impolite is the simple act of pouring wine:

Not only is it a breathtaking act of rudeness in itself, but it conveys a none-too-subtle and mercenary message: Hurry up and order another bottle. Indeed, so dulled have we become to the shame and disgrace of all this that I have actually seen waiters, having broken into the private conversation and emptied the flagon, ask insolently whether they should now bring another one. Again, imagine this same tactic being applied to the food.

Personally, I’ve never been troubled by a refilled glass of wine, but I see his point: I would be a bit confused if a server were to refill my soup bowl or top off my salad plate. And with other beverages—like coffee—the server usually asks permission before he refills your mug. But the thing is, Hitchens doesn’t even want the waiter to ask about wine refills:

If this person fills glasses unasked, he is a boor as described above. If he asks permission of each guest in turn—as he really ought to do, when you think about it—then he might as well pull up a chair and join the party. The nerve of it!

But is this really nervy or just polite? And if the waiter doesn’t pour the wine, then who does? Chances are, the most enthusiastic pourer will be the most voracious drinker of the group—which could lead to some spills and stains.

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