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Taxing Service

Friday, February 15th, 2013
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It was, you could say, a Valentine’s Day Massacre. Perhaps all the waiters in Kathmandu were distracted, lovelorn, unable to keep their minds on the job. If you were out there staring gloopily into some significant other’s eyes, you were unlikely to have been much bothered either. For those of us who were most certainly not, it was a bad day to be sniffing about town.

True, Love is more exalted an emotion than Duty. But when you slap 10% onto every bill in the name of services rendered, you would hope to get the service you’re paying for whether you like it or not. We know of course that the reverse has happened, and service has vanished into the mix in most cases. In what has been termed the manparitantra of Nepal, this is hardly remarkable. Still, I’d like to remark upon an extraordinarily ordinary run of service.

Disclaimer 1: at each place I will now proceed to shred there were mitigating factors (and staff), which seems to indicate that it is less maliciousness than a lack of proper training.

Disclaimer 2: I am not a stickler for service. I cook for myself and wash my own dishes. But when I pay someone else to do it, and pay them a gratuity on top, I expect them to do it properly.

Exhibit A: Roadhouse Cafe, Thamel

We sat down within view of the bar/barista, ordered two lattes, and began to discuss Nepal’s problems, as one does on V-day. The place was not busy (3pm). Several reminders and 20 minutes later, we got two tepid lattes. When asked why it took so long, the waiter declared there were other orders before ours. Twenty minutes for a coffee! What business model does Roadhouse run on? It left a bitter taste.

Exhibit B: Tings Tea Lounge, Lazimpat

We were delighted to discover this haven for white, green, black, herbal and assorted fruit teas and settled in one of several quirkily decorated rooms. Our order was a very long time in coming, by which time the cranky two-year-old with us was off the ‘Rasta Pasta’ we’d ordered for her and wanted an egg. My friend’s father (from India) left the room and came back to say they couldn’t serve us a boiled egg because it wasn’t on the menu. I decided to ask them again (as the local), and didn’t think anything of walking just past the open entrance into the kitchen, as it was only separated from the rest of the house by a short corridor, also inhabited by customers. The chefs said, no, it wasn’t on the menu, and I said really, it’s just an egg, for a child, when the waiter came up behind me and rudely told me off for entering the kitchen (‘tapai kina yaha aunubhayeko’) and for bypassing his authority (‘tapai le malai bhannu parcha’). Rather stunned by his bluntness, I asked him why it was not possible to make such a small adjustment, and he replied, unsmilingly, ‘Mathi bata hamilai tyastai bhaneko chha’. To be reminded of the worst aspects of the Nepali state (worse, in a place run by a very friendly Danish couple) ruined the charm of the place for me.

Exhibit C: Nepali Chulo, Lazimpat

Time then, I thought, for a proper Nepali meal, for the benefit of my visiting Indian friend. We headed to the magnificent neoclassical structure occupied by Nepali Chulo. The hordes of Chinese tourists in the place meant it was difficult to get anyone’s attention, though there were waiters dashing about everywhere. Waiter 1 told us to ask in the next room, Waiter 2 told us ‘pack chha pack’ before running off, Waiter 3 told us that he would see and disappeared, and Waiter 4, bless him, seated us, only to tell us that there was only a single fixed set available at 1100++. Fail.

Exhibit D: Bhumi, Lazimpat

The tried and tested Bhumi was the last resort. Happily, it wasn’t any more crowded than usual, and we got our first drinks and a chatamari within reasonable time. And then, as platter after platter made flourishes past us, we waited, and waited, and waited for our Samay Baji. Over an hour for the most fundamental of Newari sets? Not very down to earth, Bhumi.

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