Accent on Living

THE Canadian government is still convinced that every American motorist bringing his car into Canada is a potential smuggler of seat covers, spotlights, and automobile radio sets. It still obliges its customs inspectors to ask the motorist whether his car is equipped with these utilities; and if it is, the inspector must scrawl a notation to that effect on the car’s entry permit. I was first asked this question six or eight years ago, and it was put to me again this fall; so I judge that thousands of other motorists have had the same experience over the years.

The question is based on the possibility that the American will sell his seat covers, spotlight, and radio during his stay in Canada and come home without them. But how does the stranger, the American motorist, go about selling his spotlight and seat covers to Canadians? He could, one supposes, become a sidewalk lounger, perhaps in front of a post office. “Ps-s-s-s-t, hey, wanna buy some nice seat covers? Okay, okay — no hard feelings.” He could ring doorbells, up one side of the street and down the other, looking for customers. He might even find a garage man or a dealer who would give him a hearing, but even with a prospect in hand he will still have a selling job to do at a price that will make the whole project worth while. And what would a set of seat covers have to fetch to make a round trip from Boston or New York or Philadelphia pay off?

The more one considers it, the more unlikely it seems that the Canadian government is spending its money wisely in paying uniformed inspectors to ask these questions of motorists. The racket is simply too paltry. Furthermore, to imply that the American tourist, lord of the highway in his all-power, coloramic, fullo-matic Fire-flite Nirvana hardtop de luxe, will be up to some funny business in spotlights and seat covers is very poor public relations.

Unless the Canadian government can show some real statistics of a significant traffic underlying its hints, the customs inspectors ought to be given some now questions to ask. “Are you bringing in any machine guns? Blowguns? Sword canes? Any grenades?” But it’s hard for a government to break it self of a habit; and having once taken fright on seat covers, the Canadian government will probably continue clucking about them to the end of its days.

At one London club the host is handed a menu which lists each item and its price. His guest is given the same list, only there are no prices on the guest’s menu.

The inflexible determination of the British to do things in their own way comes to full flower in the dining room of a London hotel. It is hard, for instance, to devise there a light meal and to escape the assumption that all respectable and healthy adults must eat, ritualistically, a hearty succession of several courses.

The pressure in this direction is always strong; to ask for a sandwich of a Sunday evening is to excite bewilderment and mistrust. There is no use going to the snack bar around the corner, because these places always seem to be part of a pub and therefore closed, especially on Sundays. I made several unsuccessful passes at getting a sandwich in my hotel dining room. The ingredients were there, I knew, for afternoon tea in the lounge brought forth all sorts of sandwiches.

On my final attempt at a sandwich in the dining room, I resolved to get one and no substitutions. “I know exactly what I want,” I told the waiter. “Some thinly sliced white bread, some butter, and some sliced white meat of chicken. I am going to make a sandwich.” The waiter looked at me worriedly. He asked me to repeat the order. I did so. But it was as if I had spoken unintelligibly or in some foreign tongue. He excused himself and sought out the headwaiter.

I could see them looking at me somewhat nervously as they talked, and a moment later the headwaiter — a portly, serious old man whose tail coat reached almost to the carpet — came to my table. He took the play away from me immediately; in fact, I never had a chance to utter again the word sandwich.

“Good evening, sir,” said the headwaiter. “It happens that we have a very fine suprême of chicken this evening, and I hope you will allow me to show it to you.” He bowed and was off to the cold buffet before I could say anything. Shortly afterward, the headwaiter and the waiter reappeared at my table with what I believe is called a “trolley” — an impressive serving table of polished metal, on wheels. Two large silver platters were on the trolley; one contained an arrangement of individual ramekins filled with a pink substance, handsomely decorated; the other displayed a dozen or more suprêmes de volatile Jeannette — uncommonly large oval cuts of white meat, boned, on a thick slice of pâté de foie gras, the whole encased in a yellow glaze, surrounded by a bed of microscopically small cubes of pink aspic. “This is the chicken,” said the headwaiter, “and I am sure you would find it enjoyable.”

I realized when I first saw the platter that 1 was beaten. It was as goodlooking and sumptuous an offer of cold chicken as anyone could wish. My appetite took a sharp lift.

“And this,” the headwaiter continued, gesturing toward the ramekins, “is a ham mousse. That goes with it.” No bread. No sliced chicken. No sandwich. I ate an enormous meal — every bit of the chicken Jeannette, the aspic, and the ham mousse. And with them I ate a hard roll.

At afternoon tea the next day, the trolleys were loaded, as usual, with sandwiches — cucumber, chicken, egg, cheese, beef, ham, and tongue. A time and place for everything.