When traveling in Europe, Americans often cite the dining out experience as a major difference in cultures. European servers take their time, and allow you to as well. Since most of them don't work for tips to the level that American servers do, they won't hurry to turn your table or even bring the bill until you request it. For westerners this can be, at best, relaxing, and, at worst, anxiety-inducing.
My mom and many of my girlfriends can attest that, by U.S. standards, I'm one who likes to linger. I've left checks unturned and had water glasses refilled long past my welcome. But last week, at a cafe in Luxembourg, when my uncle's friend Mike lights his second post-meal smoke, I feel an impatient tapping in my knee as my hands start to fidget in my lap. Thirty minutes later, as he considers a third, my American eyes roll skyward in disbelief. But grey clouds roll in across the sky threatening sudden rain, so we stay.
I sit under the cafe's tarp, the traces of our shared crepe long gone, and I'm forced to come to terms with my culture. I become frantically aware of my heart beating and my fingers purposelessly grasping at each other under the table. My mind dances in circles away from the conversation, fooling itself into thinking there is somewhere else I need to be.
But in the middle of the third cigar, something changes. A couple settles into the table next to ours with their brand new puppy in tow. His playful confusion and naive curiosity manage to distract me, and most other diners, from my plight. I forget how long we all crowd around, smiling and sharing the spark that only a baby animal can bring. When we leave the cafe, I ask his owner for the dog's name, and she translates for me, "In English it's... Magic". I smile and thank her. As I pet him and say goodbye, I wonder what other magic I've missed in my haste.