An evocative portrait of the underbelly of contemporary Paris as seen through the eyes of a young waiter scraping out a living in the City of Light.
A waiter's job is to deceive you. They want you to believe in a luxurious calm because on the other side of that door . . . is hell.
Edward Chisholm's spellbinding memoir of his time as a Parisian waiter takes you beneath the surface of one of the most iconic cities in the world—and right into its glorious underbelly.
He inhabits a world of inhuman hours, snatched sleep and dive bars; scraping by on coffee, bread and cigarettes, often under sadistic managers, with a wage so low you're fighting your colleagues for tips. Your colleagues—including thieves, narcissists, ex-soldiers, immigrants, wannabe actors, and drug dealers—are the closest thing to family that you've got.
It's physically demanding, frequently humiliating and incredibly competitive. But it doesn't matter because you're in Paris, the center of the universe, and there's nowhere else you'd rather be in the world.
A Dickensian tale of a young man's trial by fire in a French bistro gives rise to biting commentary on Parisian culture in Chisholm's intoxicating debut. Underemployed in the wake of the financial crisis, Chisholm moved from London to Paris in 2011 and faked his way into a job as a runner at an upscale restaurant where, he writes, immigrants were relegated to lowly kitchen work while European waiters served "the rich and white on top." As he observes, "Slice a Parisian bistro in half and you a startlingly accurate cross-section of contemporary French society." Though disparagingly nicknamed L'Anglais, Chisholm was grudgingly educated by his peers and, after six months of backbreaking 14-hour days, he was promoted to waiter. But as he reveals, the restaurant's illusion of elegance—peddled to wealthy customers by "Caucasian waiter" like him—quickly went up in smoke as respected coworkers were fired, leaving Chisholm to while away his days dreaming of an "all-out revolution... unif the waiters of the world against their corrupt employers." Throughout, Chisholm renders the City of Light in vivid scenes of squalor and splendor, its romance and wretchedness mirroring that of the "great piece of theater" he starred in before eventually leaving the restaurant himself. Bittersweet and enchanting, this serves as a potent look at the gritty underbelly of a glittering world.