Some customers are more right than others

‘MOWEEY,” SHE SAID, flipping the back of her hand at me as if she were shooing away a fly.

“I’m sorry,” I said, not because I truly felt sorry, but because I did not understand what she meant.

“The Moweey, the Moweey,” she said, clearly exasperated.

“I am really sorry, but I really don’t understand what you are saying.”

A heavy sigh and an eye roll indicated her distress. She picked up a wine list and pointed at the Moët and Chandon champagne we had by the glass.

“Ah, Moët,” I said, enunciating the hard “t.”

“How do you pronounce it?”

“Mo-ET,” I said slowly. “The umlauts, those little dots, help give it a hard ‘t’ sound.”

“Oh. Well, I’m going to pronounce it Moweey. And the customer is always right.”


I was reminded of the short story by Oscar Wilde, “The Remarkable Rocket,” about a self-important firework that comes to an unremarkable end. Wilde wrote:

“My father was a Rocket like myself, and of French extraction. He flew so high that the people were afraid that he would never come down again. He did, though, for he was of a kindly disposition, and he made a most brilliant descent in a shower of golden rain. The newspapers wrote about his performance in very flattering terms. Indeed, the Court Gazette called him a triumph of Pylotechnic art.”

“Pyrotechnic, Pyrotechnic, you mean,” said a Bengal Light; “I know it is Pyrotechnic, for I saw it written on my own canister.”

“Well, I said Pylotechnic,” answered the Rocket, in a severe tone of voice, and the Bengal Light felt so crushed that he began at once to bully the little squibs, in order to show that he was still a person of some importance.

“What was I saying?”

“You were talking about yourself,” replied the Roman Candle.

“Of course; I knew I was discussing some interesting subject when I was so rudely interrupted.”

The saying “the customer is always right” gets bandied about all the time — the grocery store, the carwash, the coffee bar, almost everywhere you go. What many may not realize is that it was originally coined by César Ritz, the celebrated Swiss hotelier whose namesake Ritz hotels gave rise to the term “ritzy.” Ironically, the saying was originally in the negative. “Le client n’a jamais tort,” which means the customer is never wrong.

Marshall Field, whose department store dominated Chicago for more than 150 years, is known for switching it to “the customer is always right,” and popularizing it as the “Field Rule.” He is also known for using the saying, “Give the lady what she wants.”

A one-time employee of Fields, the Wisconsin-born Harry Gordon Selfridge, also helped popularized the saying when he founded his London’s Selfridges department store.

Moët et Chandon (note that the “et,” the French word for “and,” is actually pronounced as an “ay” sound) was founded by Claude Moët in the early 1700s. Cozying up to the Royal Court at Versailles, Moët became one of the few wine merchants “accredited” with serving the royals, and eventually became a favorite of Louis XV’s favorite mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Ironically, Claude’s grandson Jean-Remy cozied up to another royal court, that of Napoleon Bonaparte, for which he received the Légion d’honneur cross for service to the French state. Napoleon and Empress Josephine even had a private cottage on the grounds of the Moët estate. Also on that property are the remains of the monastery that housed the monk Dom Perignon. Although he didn’t invent champagne, he improved its bottling and corking. Thus, Moët’s Dom Perignon champagne is named after him.

All of this has led me to the following thoughts:

• Marshal Field’s original department store in Chicago is now a Macy’s.

• Moët’s White Star champagne has nothing to do with the Titanic, a ship of the doomed White Star Line.

• The proverb, “There are none so blind as those who will not see,” is just as accurate when rendered as; “There are none so ignorant as those who will not learn.”

• “I once thought I was wrong, but realized I was mistaken,” was coined by author Edward Abbey in his 1975 book, “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” Mr. Field? Anyone?

• The 2003 Moët et Chandon Dom Perignon brut is $375 at the San Francisco Ritz. For that price, you can probably pronounce it any way you want.