There is nothing so intimidating as a Parisian waiter glowering at you as you fumble through a menu. I find myself lucky; I speak a few languages and so my mind is more malleable than those who speak one. Four years of Latin, and a career in the food industry helps too. I can read French menus -- I just can't make them come out of my mouth with any measure of grace.
Many overworked Parisian waiters seem to enjoy the pain visitors feel when ordering food. It's like a sprikling of schadenfreude in their mundane workday. I can sympathize to a certain extent -- many waiters are working eight or ten tables at once, far too many, and most of those tables are populated by foreigners. But then my mind turns to my own servers in Bangkok, who do the same job with mostly foreign clientele, without a hint of pretension, or worse, disgust. C'est la vie.
But I saw signs of change in Parisian service, and it was directly related to the age of those running the restaurants. In old-school brasseries and bistros with repute, the service was brusque at best and downright scornful at worst. The food allows one to (mostly) forget. But at two of Paris' newest and most promising restaurants, my wife and I were welcomed with the sort of casual grace that defines great service today. At Septime and Agape Substance we were greeted, served, and soothed by a kind of conviviality that was almost unnerving after eating elsewhere in town.
I think that both of these places should be commeded for that; they are fashionable, they are modern, they are hard to get into, but they are also respectful of customers and mindful of the language gap. This seemed to me like a great departure from the old-school scowl and 'pffft!' that one often encounters.
It was a mark of prefessionalism and a desire to make people enjoy not just the food and the wine but the philosophy at work behind it. And today, no matter where you are, that's exactly what it takes to make it.