I admit that some of the stories you’ve heard about Parisian waiters are true. They can be a bit short, but I think it comes down to cultural differences.
In France, waiting is a time honored profession. Most waiters take their jobs seriously and are efficient and professional. Whereas in America, we have come to expect young waiters who hover at your elbow and constantly interrupt your conversation asking, “Is everything OK?” They then whisk your plate away in order to make way for other customers. The French prefer to allow you the time to enjoy your meal and linger as long as you like (although I have been asked if I’m going to have a meal with my wine later in the day).
I find that making eye contact and a simple hand gesture will get their attention. Yelling, “Garçon. Garçon.” will only get you the service you deserve!
Even if I come back to a restaurant or café a number of times, I always ask the waiter “Parlez-vous anglais?” Thankfully most waiters in Paris speak some English, but I’m careful to never assume that they do. If not, I put on a smile and launch into my ‘franglais’ with sign language tied up with a southern accent. It works every time.
Since my first visit to Paris in 2007, I’ve delighted in photographing these men in white aprons and also trying to see how many smiles I can accrue each visit. A number of waiter pose for photographs and more than one has asked if I’m in Paris alone and where I’m staying. Vive la France!