…neither before, during, or after its time. Nor do we allow it on the premises when devout Muslims are dining there.
Such was the case not long ago at a certain restaurant in Montreal. Many thanks to Sassy for translating this article from La Presse:
Four Bottles of Wine
It was December 7th. Suzanne A. was delighted to introduce her family to this great little restaurant. She’d been there at least ten times. As a family, it was going to be their first time. For Danielle’s birthday party, her little sister, it was perfect.
For lunchtime, they were a party of eight including Suzanne’s siblings and their respective spouses.
Because the restaurant is a “Bring your own wine”, they also brought four bottles of wine.
It was also “Bring your own cake” that day: When Suzanne made the reservation two weeks earlier, the owner agreed that they would bring their own cake for Danielle’s party.
Suzanne is therefore among the first to arrive. It’s the owner’s wife who welcomes them. She recognizes the owner, who is vacuuming the floor.
The guests arrive one by one. “Please open the bottles”, someone says, at the table…
The owner’s wife, who wears the hijab, opens the bottles. But she warns the group: At half-past noon, I’m going to have to take the bottles and glasses away from you…
Consternation at Suzanne’s table: Take away the wine, but why?
The owner’s wife explains: “There is a very religious Muslim group that made a reservation; they do not want any wine in the restaurant…”
“She was nervous, she felt bad,” Suzanne recalls.
The group rebelled; there was no question of accepting such a diktat. They tried to parley (to no avail), to have the owner explain (“unavailable”, replied his wife) and to offer compromises (putting the bottles on the floor); nothing helped.
Jean-Pierre A.: “I saw their table, the table of the other group. It was in another section, far from ours. They wouldn’t have seen us, from where they were…”
Suzanne A.: “The discussion with the owner’s wife took place when the group hadn’t arrived, their table wasn’t occupied. I offered to go see them when they arrived to explain that they wouldn’t see the alcohol, from where they were. The woman said if they knew there was alcohol in the restaurant, they would not enter the premises…”
A waste of time.
So, they went to celebrate Danielle’s 71st birthday in an Italian restaurant nearby.
I called the restaurant. It was the owner who answered. He remembered the episode. A misunderstanding, he pleaded: he thought that Ms. A.’s group had reserved for 6 p.m.…
So when he accepted this group of some thirty Muslims who did not want to see alcohol in this restaurant, he accepted; he did not think it would be a problem: “The lady who was with a group who had ‘alcohol, we expected them at 6 p.m. It caused a little problem. So unfortunate. There was a mistake, maybe by us, maybe by them…”
Suzanne A. swore to me that it was totally impossible for the mistake to be hers: There was never any question of her group booking in the evening to celebrate Danielle.
I pointed out to the owner that it is still a little absurd to ban alcohol in an entire restaurant because a group of customers do not want to be in the presence of alcohol under the roof of a restaurant…
“How does it bother them?”
“Because of their Muslim religion,” he replied in laborious but clear French. They didn’t want alcohol in the place, they didn’t want to see alcohol.
“You do not find that’s exaggerated, as a request?”
“Honestly, it was my wife who handled it… I just knew one thing: we respected both sides. In this business, you must respect everyone…”
In our conversation, the owner insisted that in business, “you have to respect everyone”. His door, he says, is “open to everyone […] because everyone is equal”.
I pointed out to him that his “openness to everyone” had the effect of deeply insulting Suzanne A., a regular client, as well as her family.
Owner’s response: “Sadly, it’s unfortunate for the business. They ate the soup and left…”
I asked him, was it not the fundamentalist Muslim customers who should have been told not to come to the restaurant if they could not tolerate the mere sight of a bottle of wine?…
The owner’s response on this was confused. He again pleaded the reservation error, that it was all a shame…
I asked the owner if he could put me in touch with this group of Muslims who are afraid of being under the same roof as a bottle of wine…
He told me he didn’t know them.
Would he still have the phone number of the person who made the reservation?
Unfortunately no, he replied.* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
At this point in time, a clarification is required.
I wrote this story a week ago, after checking it. In the first version, I named the restaurant, its owner and the surname of Suzanne A.
I wrote, in this first version, that I knew that the owner of the restaurant was going to be discomfited by this column. Knowing the climate surrounding the Muslim issue, I knew that this restaurant was going to be the target of derogatory comments.
And then we have Prime Minister Legault who, in very dignified words, spoke of the three years since the massacre at the Quebec mosque. These words were greeted as we know by a horrible tsunami of indigestible comments from the noisy brigade which hates Muslims, all Muslims…
And that’s when I decided not to name the restaurant.
The anti-Muslim paranoia is so brutal that I don’t want narrow minds to smash the restaurant window… Or worse.
It is a case by case, but it is not the first time that I decide not to identify someone or an institution to save them from an inevitable tsunami of brutal reactions, regardless of their wrongdoings: I have done it in the case of a lecturer and in the case of a school on the North Shore.
Suzanne A. agreed with this decision. She’s upset with the restaurant, she thinks he made a bad decision, but she doesn’t wish the owner any harm. I quote: “Take it easy all the same, I don’t want them to be forced to close their restaurant. It’s their income and it’s a family business.”* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I told Suzanne A. of my conversation with the owner of the restaurant, who had a very “business-like” perspective on the situation.
I asked Ms. A. if the restaurant might not have — business obliges — disrespected her group because they were only eight, while the group of medieval wine dissenters was, according to the owner, between 30 and 35. To choose between eight clients or around thirty…
Response from Ms. A.: “I don’t believe it. They sided with the Muslims.”
Suzanne A. insists: She has no problem with Islam, absolutely none. If she had one, she would never have patronized this restaurant run by a Muslim couple. “The owner’s wife wears a veil; I don’t mind. I have been to this restaurant several times. We liked this restaurant, its food…”
Suzanne A. explained why she chose to tell me about her misadventure of December 7, 2019: because she is 73 years old, and she lived in another Quebec, a quiet pre-Revolution Quebec. She lived through the straightjacket of Catholicism.
“It has taken many years to get out of this regime,” she said. “And there, in this restaurant, we are forced to do that! These fanatics don’t want to see alcohol for religious reasons. It is so far-reaching as not wanting to be in a restaurant where alcohol is served at other tables! If we don’t say these things, it can get worse, it can grow. I don’t hold it against the people in the restaurant. I find that they are victims, it was imposed on them.”* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The people of Suzanne A.’s family to whom I spoke with did not seem to me to be paranoids about Islam, certainly not the type to write terrible words about Muslims under the Facebook status of François Legault, say.
But something has changed within them, when they left the restaurant around 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 7. A veneer of tolerance that has cracked.
Take Jean-Pierre, Suzanne A’s brother. When he walked through the restaurant door, he was ambivalent about Law 21 on the secularism of the state. Oh, he had followed the debate like everyone else. “But I was in between,” he told me.
However, when he left the restaurant on December 7, he was for Bill 21, absolutely for. I would even say resolutely for.
Yes, Jean-Pierre A. knows very well that Bill 21 targets state employees, not the decisions of private companies…
“I know that Bill 21 would not change anything that happened at the restaurant. I know it. But there I saw how some Muslims can be fanatics.”
I note the word: “some”. He didn’t say “all”.
Suzanne A. had the same reaction as her brother Jean-Pierre. I quote: “I know that Bill 21 would never have changed anything in my experience. It wouldn’t have changed anything. But it sends a message…”* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The insult to Suzanne A.’s family illustrates how certain demands divorced from reality can rob people of good faith.
Also, this case illustrates the importance of a very simple word that could kill in the bud many controversies that set the headlines on fire…
That word is “NO.”
My favorite example: when a very pious man insists on a male evaluator rather than a female evaluator to take his driving test at the SAAQ, all you have to do is say “NO” and suggest that he get back in line in the hope that a male examiner may become available prior to closing time…
Here, between a group of fundamentalist customers and Ms. A.’s group, the restaurant chose to say “NO” to those who weren’t disturbing anyone.
It’s a bad choice, the kind of choice that robs people of good faith.