So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Daily Archives: November 26, 2009

Gifts for waiters – pt 1

After just having talked about commercialization and hoping to wait until midnight tonight to start confronting it, I break my own rule.

I do this because I recognize that today will be a day where fewer people than usual will be accessing this blog, and for good reason. There’s turkey to carve, canned cranberry substance to avoid, pecan pie to gorge on, and American football to watch with friends and family.

But I wanted to get a jump on tomorrow and offer some suggestions for holiday gifts for the waiter in your life.

So sue me.

I’ve discussed some of these things on the blog, but not in the context of gift-giving. We’ll discuss this topic over several upcoming posts.

First of all, we start with the supreme gift that a waiter can carry with them to work, a Laguiole corkscrew.

Let’s talk about this for a moment.

Laguiole is not a manufacturer, it’s a marketing term. It’s pronounced roughly, “la-jzoll”. It originally described a knife product produced in the village of Laguiole, but soon became a regional product and later described a visual style, which has been copied throughout the world, sometimes counterfeited outright and sometimes manufactured as a “Laguiole-styled” product. It’s distinguished by a long narrow body, usually sheathed in a premium hardwood, bone or fossil. While some models are straight, most have a gentle curve that falls naturally to hand. The knife portion is usually constructed of 440 surgical steel, and the components are precision milled and forged and hand-fitted to a tight, long-lasting fit.

The “true” brand has a specific mark – some call it a bee and some call it a fly. You decide:

 

Don’t be fooled. There are real Laguioles, “real” Laguioles, “Laguiole-styled” and counterfeit Laguioles. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes, especially when you shop on-line. Sometimes they are similar to “Swiss-made”, “Swiss movement” and “Swiss engineered” watches. “Swiss made” watches, unless counterfeit, are actually made in Swiss factories. “Swiss movement”, “Swiss” and “Swiss engineered” watches are usually made in Chinese factories from Swiss parts and Swiss designed movements and are overseen by on-site Swiss engineers. The same is true of some “Laguiole” products.

Let’s put it this way – you need to spend at least $75 retail on a real basic Laguiole product. And nicer ones cost much more. I’ve seen the occasional corkscrew sold online NIB at about $50 but, never having bought one, I can’t speak to the craftsmanship. You can find them on eBay for even less, but you rarely can be assured of the provenance. However, if you use some common sense and careful observation of the pictures and the language of the listing, you can find a few real Laguioles between $25 – $60 on eBay (I just looked). 

 There are over 50 French factories making these products and, due to the handmade nature of the product, there’s probably some variation (one factory claims that only one person makes each knife from start to finish). Here are some classic Laguiole looks:

 

But a faux Laguiole might be appropriate if you’re buying a gift for a waiter like me who tends to misplace things like corkscrews, sunglasses and umbrellas. In fact, I have such a corkscrew. I bought it new on eBay for around 10 bucks. Has a rosewood handle and from a distance could be mistaken for a Laguiole. But it’s clear that the workmanship is only average at best. The wood on the handle has a loose, open grain and the corkscrew wobbles slightly from side-to-side. But in general, it’s a perfect corkscrew for me. Not so expensive that I have to fret about it and not so cheaply made that it won’t stand up to daily use (mine has been around for almost 2 years now, ironic for someone like me who probably has 2 other decent corkscrews hiding around the house and a couple that I’ve given to the parking lot god).

There is one downside to Laguiole that could be a deal-breaker for some waiters. Some waiters insist on a double-hinged lever.  This uses a stepped approach to cork pulling as the lever itself is longer than usual and is notched both at the end and also at a hinge which allows the waiter to use a two-pull approach. This is handy when you have a delicate or extra-long cork. Personally, while I find them convenient, I’ve never “needed” one. But I know some waiters who would never use a conventional lever because they’ve gotten used to the hinged type. It might be good to casually inspect your intended gift recipient’s current corkscrew, or find a way to ask about their preference without them knowing why you’re asking.

You don’t necessarily have to go with Laguiole. There are some nice “waiter’s friends” out there. Some are fancier than others. Some can be engraved. What you want to avoid is the cheap stamped pot-metal types like you find in the supermarket. Find something that’s made of stainless steel or with a wood handle. Something like this would be nice:

Pluses are hinged levers like you see in the above example, extra-long screws, teflon-coated screws, tight construction.

If your significant other isn’t a klutz like me, they will surely appreciate the gift of a really nice waiter’s friend corkscrew. Might as well spend a few bucks. If they are a klutz or are a more casual acquaintance, by all means be more modest in the type of corkscrew you pop for. But buy a nice one in whatever price range you choose. Look to eBay and other online sources of bargains. Or if you’re lucky enough to have a specialty cutlery store, you might find some nice imported models. Generally, the ones you see in department stores aren’t very good or are good but pedestrian.

So show your favorite waiter some love and get them a nice stocking stuffer this year. They’ll appreciate it. Makes a great Secret Santa gift as well…

 

Thanksgiving 2009

311 years ago next month, Pilgrims, escaping persecution in their home country, landed in a new world after attempting to establish themselves elsewhere in the Old World.

Within the year, they were celebrating what we moderns consider the first Thanksgiving feast, a meal shared with the people with which they had signed a peace treaty and who had provided means of survival during the first brutal winter.

Crossing the ocean to find a world where they might be free to worship, they were driven by the promise of freedom.

Soon pressured by the same forces from which they had fled with the arrival of the Puritans, the Pilgrims found the challenges of a New World daunting. With Puritans bringing their own brand of religious intolerance and clashes with indigenous peoples breaking out around them, the Pilgrims soon because absorbed into a larger social network. In a way, they found what they were looking for when they were absorbed into the larger provence of Massachusetts. Along the way, they lost their unique identity, but not their faith. And, in their own way, they moderated the more fundamentalist traits of the predominating Puritans through their absorbtion into the greater whole.

Over the years, the story of the Pilgrims has been rebuilt, idealized, recalibrated for current events and has entered the realm of mythology and apocryphal narration.

Depending on our political stripe, we can draw varied conclusions from the story.

I would like to think that we can take important lessons from the idea of the search for freedom and the desire to cooperate with other, more divergent cultures and blend it with the idea that people should rankle against religious and social intolerance, but be ever mindful of being subsumed into a larger whole for the sake of pure commerce and expediency. The Pilgrims fought long odds in a desire to live and worship in their own fashion. Should we not aspire ourselves to allow others the same right to live the way that they wish, as long as they bring no harm to others?

Sadly, in these days of marginalization, a divided public and an increasingly shrill public discourse, we move further and further from the ideals of the first Thanksgiving.

I hope that we, as a people, stop and take a deep breath and reflect today on the principles of tolerance and the true meaning of freedom.

And forget about commercialism until at least after midnight tonight, at which point we can then struggle with the whole Christmas/commercialism paradigm.

May peace be with you and yours.