Christopher Hitchens launches vitriolic attack on sommeliers

  • Thursday 29 May 2008

Author and journalist Christopher Hitchens has launched a scathing attack on restaurants and sommeliers, calling them ‘barbaric’, ‘rude’ and ‘boors’.

Writing for online magazine The Slate, the British-born Hitchens attacked sommeliers who ‘interrupt’ dinner-table conversation and lean over diners to pour out the wine. The writer also drew a parallel with a waiter leaning over a guest to cut up his or her food.

‘How did such a barbaric custom get itself established,’ says Hitchens, ‘and why on earth do we put up with it?’

In the article, entitled Wine Drinkers of the World, Unite, the columnist divided bad service in restaurants into two categories: keeping customers waiting and being too intrusive.

‘The vile practice of butting in and pouring wine without being asked is the very height of the second kind of bad manners,’ he says. ‘Not only is it a breathtaking act of rudeness in itself, but it conveys a none-too-subtle and mercenary message: Hurry up and order another bottle.’

Hitchens, who lives in America, also attacked the practice for its wastefulness, with sommeliers sometimes pouring wine that some guests would not finish.

‘Restaurants ought not to inflict waste and extravagance on their patrons for the sake of padding out the bill,’ he says. ‘This too, is a very extreme form of rudeness.’

According to Hitchens, the reason for the ‘rudeness’ diners endure is the, ‘snobbery and insecurity that frequently accompany the wine business’, as well as custom and habit.

‘People somehow grant restaurants the right to push their customers around in this outrageous way,’ he says.

Hitchens concludes by exhorting all diners to stop the sommelier before he pours.

‘I am perfectly aware that there are many greater problems facing civilisation…but this is something that we can all change at a stroke,’ he says.

Hitchens is no stranger to controversy. The writer, although once known for his left-wing views, has recently supported certain Conservative causes, including the war on Iraq.

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