A Little Water Can Be Transformative

by admin on January 1, 2013

My friend, my husband, and I were spending a few days in Salzburg, Austria. There we met one of the most interesting encounters with a waiter that I have ever had.

We popped into a little restaurant to eat before our evening boat cruise on the river. My friend and I both speak German and have spent quite a bit of time in German and Austria.

A little bit of background first. Austria does not serve water for free like the US (we are Americans so this is difficult for us). Instead they charge you an exorbitant amount for a little bit of water. However, you can ask for “Leitungswasser” which is tap water. There seems to be some mixed opinions that I have heard about asking for “Leitungswasser” as rude but this didn’t bother my friend.

We sit down and browse the menu. After some time the waiter, an older gentlemen, comes up to us and asks us what we would like to drink. My friend tells him 3 tap waters; we are after all, three college students on tight budgets. He looks irritated and asks us if that is all we want to drink. We say yes. He gives this dramatic sigh, rolls his eyes and stalks off to get us our water. In all honesty, it was like a 13-year-old year was trapped in this man’s body.

He continued to be quite rude to us while we were there, including grunting at us. Yet the food was delicious and the restaurant was charming. We still laugh about how losing three drinks turned our waiter into a teenage girl. 1228-12

{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

Jones January 3, 2013 at 9:38 am

This entry made me smile a little as I remembered my mother’s tales of traveling overseas. She and Dad were going to a country where they preferred not to depend on the quality of tap water, rude or no. They are complete teetotallers for religious reasons, and both tend to avoid soft drinks and sugary juices as often as possible. Ergo, they ordered milk. And then had to deal with concerned waiters asking them if they felt at all well, or would prefer to take their food to go and lie down a bit. Apparently, drinking milk was a sign of feeling ill if one was above drinking age.

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Green123 January 3, 2013 at 11:43 am

@Stefanie there is no part of the UK where drinking tapwater is ‘disallowed because of the pipes’. If a restaurant or pub tells you that they’re lying to try to make you buy bottled water! UK tapwater is perfectly safe to drink. However because a small amount of chlorine is added, some people prefer the taste of bottled water to tap water.

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Amanda H. January 3, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Red Cat, besides what Elf said, the reason for the tax not being included in the price tags is also because sales tax rates vary by state, and even by municipality within those states. So you’ll get one state that charges X% sales tax, another that charges Y% but only on certain items like clothing or snack foods or furniture, and yet another that charges absolutely no sales tax (I’m looking at you, New Hampshire). Not only that, but in the state where the tax is X%, it might be X+x% in one city, X+y% in another, and X+z% in yet another, depending on what the cities decide to tack on to the sales tax charged. So price tags that are actually on products are printed for just the base price because that won’t change no matter which state it’s shipped to, and shelf price tags show the base price both to match with the product tags and also so the store won’t have to change every single label in the entire store if the state or local municipality decides to change its tax rate that year.

It’s messed up, I know. When I go shopping, I make sure to mentally round up as I add up prices to make sure I don’t go over budget, to account for the sales tax (which in my area is currently 8%).

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Kai January 3, 2013 at 9:17 pm

“Jenn50 January 3, 2013 at 1:00 am
What I take exception to is one of the commenter’s suggestion that it is gluttonous to order an appetizer or dessert. One cannot simply want to try different dishes? What’s wrong with taking the rest home? We often order several courses, but we don’t feel the need to force it all down.”
I attempted (but may have failed) to suggest that it is gluttonous to *consume* an appetizer, entree, and dessert at a typical restaurant. I think it can be reasonable to order more food that you plan to eat and take it home. My point was that I would find it absurd for restaurants to *expect* me to order multiple courses, since I couldn’t possibly eat it on the spot.
Some types of food I’m happy to have a little more variety and lunch for tomorrow. Some things I find just don’t reheat well (#1 – creamy pastas), and it’s not worth taking home.
Anyways, I was just saying that I could imagine a comparable state in which we were *expected* to order multiple courses, because it too pays better for the restaurant, and that would be ridiculous.

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Kai January 3, 2013 at 9:25 pm

“Red Cat January 3, 2013 at 12:21 am
One of the most frustrating things about travelling in North America was never knowing how much something costs – even when buying gifts, clothing, services, etc. tax may not be included in the price tag – you get an unpleasant surprise at the register! I find that quite misleading, and asked many people why the total cost was not included upfront. No one could give me a satisfactory answer!”

I can’t tell you for sure, but I suspect it is because local areas can have their own taxes in North America. A book might be printed in the states, and marked $11.99 / $12.99 CAN (which, on an offnote, is obnoxious given the dollar parity these days).
That’s the base price. But then some of the books are shipped to the states, where each state has its own different tax, put onto the base rate. The ones the come to Canada vary by province. We have national GST of 5%, and provincial taxes (PST) of varying amounts. The books sold in Saksatchewan will have added a 5% GST, and a 5% PST, so the book costs $14.29 there. BC will have 12% HST added on (combines GST/PST), and sell books for $14.55. In Alberta, there is no PST, so it’s just the GST, and the book sells for $13.64.

In Australia, are there state sales taxes that differ from each other? Or are prices never printed on items and each store must affix price tags?

(I’m sure it’s also beneficial for retailers to show a lower price without the tax, but I think this is an additional reason that it can make some sense.)

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Ames April 8, 2014 at 3:23 am

No, in Australia it is one set rate of 10% (Government Sales Tax or GST). It’s worked into the price, so if you see $12.99, that is what you pay, no more.

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Kai January 3, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Recycling glass bottles of water definitely sounds much more reasonable! Thanks for that note. That explains it to me. It seemed odd that Europe would accept that when they are far more green on so many other things.

We have bottled mineral water in Canada too. Heck, some of it comes from Europe. There’s one or two that are all right, but I find most bottled water regardless of source to taste very very dead. Less-filtered mineral water is generally better than the majority that call themselves ‘purified’ and have stripped everything out. It’s possible glass might be better, but I think it’s usually the process.

What exactly I said was ” I can’t believe it is still accepted in countries with perfection potable tap water.” (where ‘perfection’ should have been ‘perfectly’). I understand that there are some areas where the tap water really isn’t potable (and I meant to exclude areas where it isn’t), but I see a lot more places where there isn’t any scientific reason the tap stuff isn’t drinkable, but people have decided that tap water isn’t good enough.

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Norrina January 3, 2013 at 11:27 pm

My “issue” if you will with a cultural expectation that I order a drink is that I will often go my entire meal without drinking anything. I am probably permanently dehydrated, because I just don’t drink. I’ll pour myself a cup of coffee in the morning, and more often than not 3 hours later I’m pouring 3/4 of the mug down the drain and making myself a fresh cup. Or I’ll pour half a can (8 ounces) of soda over ice and leave it to sit until the ice has all melted and that goes down the drain too. I did manage to finish 2 glasses of wine this evening, because I’m trying to make myself sleepy and wine is good for that with me. At a restaurant, I *may* drink a glass of wine with dinner, but I don’t always want alcohol with my meal.

I even prefer that restaurants not bother giving me the complimentary (U.S.) glass of tap water, because I know I’m not going to drink it. Usually DF will order a soda, and I’ll have a water which he then ends up drinking most of. So I wouldn’t request a glass of free tap water, but it feels wasteful to order a drink I know I’m not going to consume either. It would be like ordering ice cream when I was stuffed to the gills because it was a cultural “expectation” that one order desert when dining out; I can’t take it with me because it will just melt, so it becomes a waste of perfectly good food. FWIW, I also do not order desert, because I can rarely finish my entree let alone have room for desert, and I refuse to continue eating once I have reached comfortably full.

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Stefanie January 4, 2013 at 11:49 am

@Green123 – that’s interesting! I don’t know what to make of that, as I lived in the UK for several months and was told in many, many places (including my flat and in hospital) not to drink the tap water because of the pipes! I never questioned it. Hmm.

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GleanerGirl January 5, 2013 at 11:26 am

When I lived in Germany, the advice I was given by my first German instructor was to ask for tap water *specifically* because “I need to take a pill.” I don’t understand why, but that made all sorts of difference to the waiters. Ask for tap water to drink, and they look at you like you’re crazy. In fact, one waitress once told me that you should never drink tap water, from anywhere, because it will make you have a miscarriage. Unless you’re only using a little bit, for a pill. Ummmm, OK.

But ask for a glass, to take a pill, and they’re all smiles. Go figure!

I also learned that for soda, a cola is a teeeeny drink, for oodles of money. An orange soda is a teeeeeeny drink for oodles of money. However, a “spezi,” which is a combination of coke and orange soda, is a huge drink, for less than either a cola or and orange. It quickly became my drink of choice. But I still asked for the tap water. You know, to take a pill.

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GleanerGirl January 5, 2013 at 11:33 am

Another bit of advice for dining in Germany:

When you are at a sit-down restaurant, you are basically renting the table for the evening. It’s neither rude nor unexpected to linger for HOURS after your meal is over. In fact, I’ve been to restaurants where they brought out a selection of games to play, after the dessert course! I loved that place.

That said, if you’re ever in a hurry, the thing to do is to tell your waiter up front. You place your order and ask for the check, at the same time. You can then keep the check and pay it at your leisure, or pay it right away so you can snarf your food and leave quickly. Either way you do it, SMILE, so they don’t think you’re leaving quickly because you don’t like the atmosphere. Just let them know that you have a schedule to keep.

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Bint January 5, 2013 at 4:06 pm

“Many parts of the UK disallow drinking of tap water due to the pipes, for example.”

No, no parts of the UK ban drinking tap water. If you live in an old building with Victorian pipes that are disintegrating, your water might start to come out brown from the pipe itself, which needs replacing. That’s the pipes. The water’s fine. Bad pipes are also extremely unusual because they have to be fixed by law. I’ve never lived in a house under 250 years old and had the pipes go down about three times in total.

Mary – it sadly sounds like you went to a raging tourist trap – opposite Tower Bridge, the chances are high. For a British waiter to tell customers they’re having too good a time to leave is just weird and creepy, but overall this is also awful service. I’d have pursued a waiter and complained, although if I’m in a rush (under 2 hours) I tell the waiter on booking or arrival so they can tell the kitchen. And to the poster who said these places should be better attuned to tourists – London isn’t just a tourist attraction! It’s a living, breathing city where the local people like to eat in the local places. All the local places. And how can they attune to tourists who come from dozens of different countries anyway, with different expectations? That’s not a good attitude to have when visiting foreign countries.

The OP wasn’t rude to order tap water. The waiter was rude. Calling him a ‘girl’ is just embarrassing for the OP. If you’re going to be cosmopolitan, drop the sexism.

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Mary January 5, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Bint- it’s very possible that the place across from the Tower with the hour wait for the check was a tourist trap. However I would think they would want to get people out as fast as possible to turn over the tables to new customers. The four hour place was a small French/Italian restaurant near Picadilly. It didn’t seem like it was tourist only but had lots of locals.
It’s nice to hear from posters here that it’s okay to ask politely for the check immediately for schedule reasons. I will be sure to remember that (along with the tap water issue) when we finally make it back to Europe!

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Viki January 12, 2013 at 9:24 am

Here in England it’s very common to drink free tap-water with your meal, I’ve never heard of bottled water being free, is that what the OP is saying happens in America?

Funnily enough whenever I’ve been abroad I’ve been told not to drink the tap water, to the extent where you are advised against ice cubes and washed salad, because different countries treat the water differently, and it can make you sick.

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iwadasn October 16, 2014 at 9:11 am

Bottled water is never free in the U.S. It’s actually exorbitantly expensive. But almost all sit-down restaurants in America give you a free glass of tap water with ice, which is refilled as many times as necessary.

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j-wo October 14, 2013 at 12:19 am

I spent six weeks in Paris and usually ate my dinner at the local bistro, which I adored. My French was pretty bad but everyone appreciated my efforts. My waiter spoke no English, and when I’d give him my order for whatever entree I was having, plus a Coca-Cola, he’d do this hilarious routine of acting as if he was being sent to the executioner’s block for delivering such an order (“Boeuf bourguignon avec un coca-cola…tsk tsk tsk”) and drag himself into the kitchen. It became an endearing routine for the duration of my stay, and I hope to one day return to Cafe Rambeteau and have another coca-cola.

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