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Your United States Impressions of a first visit

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I sat with a melting ice on my plate, and my gaze on a very distant swinging door, through which came and went every figure except the familiar figure I desired. The figure of a woman came. She wore a pale-blue dress and a white apron and cap, and carried a dish in uplifted hands, with the gesture of an acolyte. On the bib of the apron were two red marks, and as she approached, tripping, scornful, unheeding, along the interminable carpeted aisle, between serried tables of correct diners, the vague blur of her face gradually developed into features, and the two red marks on her stomacher grew into two rampant lions, each holding a globe in its ferocious paws; and she passed on, bearing away the dish and these mysterious symbols, and lessened into a puppet on the horizon of the enormous hall, and finally vanished through another door. She was succeeded by men, all bearing dishes, but none of them so inexorably scornful as she, and none of them disappearing where she had disappeared; every man relented and stopped at some table or other. But the figure I desired remained invisible, and my ice continued to melt, in accordance with chemical law. The orchestra in the gallery leaped suddenly into the rag-time without whose accompaniment it was impossible, anywhere in the civilized world, to dine correctly. That rag-time, committed, I suppose, originally by some well-intentioned if banal composer in the privacy of his study one night, had spread over the whole universe of restaurants like a pest, to the exasperation of the sensitive, but evidently to the joy of correct diners. Joy shone in the elated eyes of the four hundred persons correctly dining together in this high refectory, and at the end there was honest applause!... And yet you never encountered a person who, questioned singly, did not agree and even assert of his own accord that music at meals is an outrageous nuisance!...



However, my desired figure was at length manifest. The man came hurrying and a little breathless, with his salver, at once apologetic and triumphant. My ice was half liquid. Had I not the right to reproach him, in the withering, contemptuous tone which correct diners have learned to adopt toward the alien serfs who attend them? I had not. I had neither the right nor the courage nor the wish. This man was as Anglo-Saxon as myself. He had, with all his deference, the mien of the race. When he dreamed of paradise, he probably did not dream of the caisse of a cosmopolitan Grand Hotel in Switzerland. When he spoke English he was not speaking a foreign language. And this restaurant was one of the extremely few fashionable Anglo-Saxon restaurants left in the world, where an order given in English is understood at the first try, and where the English language is not assassinated and dismembered by menials who despise it, menials who slang one another openly in the patois of Geneva, Luxembourg, or Naples. A singular survival, this restaurant!... Moreover, the man was justified in his triumphant air....