In a politically-corrected world, where there is one side to every story, although it changes from day to day, I was delighted to see the Wall Street Journal publish a courageous article. It was in defence of French waiters. They are, as Cristina Nehring hints, among the last upholders of Western civilization; and in their settled attitude of pas possible, doing a job even Rome has been abandoning.

Unlike so many miserable wretches in contemporary Parisian society, the garçon de café has a calling. And it is not a calling to anything else. He is, like the ancient English butler (who survives only in old movies), a man of dignity; and of a wide knowledge, at the disposal of those who politely ask. He knows what is possible and what is not. He gives respect to the respectable; and he demands respect in turn. Like an officer in the field, he is called by his office, and not by his name; never should he be treated as a familiar.

“Hi everyone, my name is Johnny and I’ll be your server today! Do you have any questions about the menu?”

The journalist quotes this painfully common line, and adds what follows from it: “servers” who pester throughout the meal; put you on the spot by asking your opinion; freely interrupt dinner-table conversation with their feigned concern for your wellbeing, breathing empathy in a mist-like spittle over the fancy entrée; and again unbidden, suddenly they nail you with the bill. This is arrogance of a kind that would be unthinkable to a true French waiter.

Some years ago a visitor from Montreal, to the then still-existing Idler Pub, whose kitchen was not inadequate, confessed the ugly truth about the decline of his city. He frankly admitted that, in Toronto nowadays, even the food is better. But in his prideful despair, he cried: “Dieu merci! … At least we still have real waiters.”

Aheu, for the civilizing mission of Catholic Quebec, to our North American wilds! The waiters he admired provided the last distant echo of Brébeuf and Lalement, gone to martyrdom in Huronia.

Waiters, he recalled; and not the art students, who were then scurrying about us, at pains to let us know all about themselves. How deadly the idea that “serving” should be a means, justified by some selfish end; to do a job for which you advertise your contempt, and right in the face of your victims. No: waitering is a calling in and of itself, and considerably higher than most to which the young now aspire. (Such as lawyering, or banking.)

By contrast, there is a waitress in my local greasy spoon, of a certain age and majesty, crowned with blue-rinse hair. She has been a waitress all her adult life, and in the same restaurant; mistress of her trade. A calling is a calling, and she has never used the job crassly, to get ahead. Maternal and confident is she. Nonsense she will never brook. And on the analogy of a French waiter, she upholds standards.

This is chivalry to begin (which has its feminine forms), and charity in its reaches. The customer who has committed a solecism must be corrected; if he cannot pronounce French words he should be shown how. It would be irresponsible to leave him in a state of ignorance, wherein he could be mocked. The complacent servers of America are rogues who will not only tolerate error, but flatter, while angling for larger tips.

The very business of tipping is no longer understood; even by me. All I know is that it must be chaste. It is vulgar to treat it as a bribe, or a wage, or a “mark of appreciation”; to make it too personal, or too exactly proportional. It is instead a fee — a conventional amount, round in number, and modest in size — to be tendered regardless of the quality discovered. (If you don’t like the restaurant, don’t return.) How modest? I am likely to be asked. By tradition, I would say a penny in the ounce, or shilling in the pound.

Similarly, one tips the hangman on one’s way up the gallows. It is his due for performing an important public service: conscientiously, as we must assume. And as the principal beneficiary, one pays his fee. The amount may differ for a hemp rope or a silk (according to one’s social station), but will in either case be fixed by convention. Haggling would be untoward.

And the waiter (or hangman, as the case may be) should no more adjust his service to the tip, than the customer his tip to the service. This would make it a bribe for doing his job well, and thus frightfully insulting. A good hangman (or waiter) is incorruptible.

There is a wonderful anecdote in the newspaper, which conveys the expertise, and characteristic archness of a fine French waiter. The journalist, confessing a sweet tooth, has ordered a Kir mûr (dry white, heavily spiked with a syrupy liqueur). The waiter is naturally appalled.

Alors,” says he. “For the future, the desirable recipe for a very sweet Kir is double-cassis and aligoté.”

“You’re saying I ordered the bubble-gum version?”

“Ah, non, Madame. You ordered what you like. A man never contradicts a lady.”

Then after the pause: “Now, if it had been Monsieur who had ordered this Kir, I would absolutely have contradicted him.”

As will be seen, this is a large and very important subject, to which I sometimes return. We have what the economists call a “service economy,” yet know nothing — nothing at all — about service. This will not do, and will have to be un-politically corrected.