You’ll be pleased to hear that Jean-Paul Sartre’s got this covered. The existential idea of Bad Faith (mauvaise foi, en français) cites the paradoxical decision to deny one’s own inherent freedom – and it’s perhaps best illustrated by a server. Sartre invites us to consider an especially waiter-ish waiter: performing just a little too efficiently, moving a smidge too fast, projecting an outsized commitment to his servile role. Sartre would say that his behaviour shows a cognitive dissonance – here is someone pretending that a waiter is all he is, when he must know better than anyone that he contains far more.
Maybe Luca loves Sartre. Watching him, ants in his pants and charmingly smirky, hard to corral into any shape let alone that of servant or student, I suspect he’s not totally au fait with the philosopher – point being, he doesn’t need to be. L’Apprendistato provides a glimpse into Luca’s inherent understanding of everything Sartre wrote and more: Mauvaise Foi 101.
The boy can see the transaction he’s being asked to make – hello, please hang your soul up by the door with your coat for eight hours, you can collect it on the way out – and rejects it. Making visible the insidious insanity of a world pegged on the dichotomy of server-served, Luca’s scepticism shows us something we all know and bury. You can have my hands, but you’ll never take my heart.
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Thing is – serving takes a lot of just that. Surely, humans have to care about something to stop themselves going crazy after a 50-hour week of it? We have to draw a sense of self from somewhere, and I know that – if I was in a good mood and everything went well – an evening in the dining room could be energising rather than draining.
Camaraderie with other staff, rolling eyes backstage about impossible customers or jumping in to steady a colleague’s tray about to topple; sneaking a choice titbit in the kitchen, snatches of conversation with interesting diners; all these things keep you sane as you pander to whim after whim, prioritising strangers’ needs over your own for 14 hours straight on a double shift. Paradoxically, those tricks of the trade also keep you invested: island oases which make the shit worth trekking through.
Speaking of tricks, I had a good one. Like all the best rackets, it came up organically – nonetheless, it proved reliably replicable. So: take a table of businessmen (we need posturing and a little competition in the air, and a few bottles of wine behind them). Make sure they’re paying in cash, and that they’ve spent enough to pull out £50 notes. ‘Goodness me’, you say, picking up a note to check it’s real. ‘Sorry, I’ve just never seen a 50 in real life’.
‘You know what darling? Take it.’ That’s what one of them – whoever’s hosting, angling for a promotion, or drunkest – will say. The first time, the question was genuine; not many fifties pop up for a student on minimum wage, and before the seafood restaurant my waitressing was largely confined to less showy establishments. Perhaps that’s why it felt like magic: the universe delivering a just reward, and all it took was a smile.