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Danny Wallace on the shame of quibbling a bill

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Danny Wallace
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Danny Wallace on the shame of quibbling a bill

I decide to order a delicious glass of wine. Just the one. Why not? I mean, this bar is unusually expensive, but I have finished work for the day and I’m in a drab business hotel out of town, and so I throw caution to the wind and do it.

But I settle my tab immediately, because this is a great way of not having a second glass of overpriced wine.

But have you ever had a delicious glass of wine? They’re delicious! And I begin to wonder… what about that second?

And I know what you’d say. You’d say: “Danny, you are such a diligent worker. Why be so hard on yourself? You deserve that second overpriced glass! Come closer, let me spoon it into your mouth.”

So OK! Maybe a second! But not a third, because that would be extravagant and lead the bartender to think I have limitless funds and a problem of some kind.

So I order it, and it’s from a new bartender who therefore won’t judge me, and he sweeps my old glass away and pops down a new one. And I start to realise that being alone in the bar of a drab business hotel on a Tuesday night isn’t so bad. But that might be because these are quite large measures.

And a little later, I do that mime to indicate I’d like to draw an illegible squiggle very high in the air on the world’s tiniest notepad. I will pay for my glass of wine!

And I will retire to bed! And I hear a friendly voice to my right.

“Hello, Danny!” says a stranger. “How are you?” he asks, in a very polite way, and he explains that he sometimes listens to me when I’m on the radio. And he begins to ask me lots of questions. In quite quick succession. Like, “Just having a glass of wine?” and “Did you have dinner here, what did you have?” and “What are you up to later on?”

I am trying to keep up but these are speedy questions, delivered almost on top of one another.

“How often do you stay here? Did you park here?”

I begin to suspect that this man is compiling some kind of dossier on me.

And because I am a people-pleaser, I tell him everything he wants to know, including that I had some lasagne. I tell you, I wouldn’t last five minutes with a Kremlin interrogator before I told him I’d had some lasagne.

And then he sits down next to me – quite close – and he nudges my elbow and tries to catch the bartender’s eye. A bartender who will want to know if I want a third.

But no! I’ve had my two. One already paid for. One about to be.

“What was the lasagne like, was it good?”

He’s back to the lasagne. But don’t tell him, Danny! He’s going to put it in your file!

Just then the barman slides me my bill. And I realise there has been an error.

“Oh!” I say, about to fix this meaningless mistake very easily, but then I spy the guy next to me studying my bill. He’s taking quite the interest. Keeping his eye on me.

I need to quibble this bill. But now I can’t quibble it. If I quibble the bill, this man will forever consider me a bill quibbler. And no one likes a bill quibbler. People like people who get a bill, glance at it for a second, then throw down a wallet or do a big exaggerated signature and move on with their lives. 

Yet quibbling a bill is no crime. If anything, it is righting a crime! Quibbling a bill is rebalancing the universe. It’s something a superhero would do, but unbelievably is a scene yet to make it into a single Marvel film. Just one quick scene with Superman quibbling a bill in the butchers would reposition quibbling forever.

But no. These are unenlightened times. If I quibble this bill, then this quibble-witness – who is studying my movements and firing off his questions based on them – will have an overarching memory of me as a quibbler. It will supersede entirely every other fact he knows, including where I parked and what I think of the breakfast buffet.

“I met Danny Wallace,” he will tell unimpressed friends.

“What was he like?” they’ll say.

“He was BORING,” he’ll say. “He just told me about his lasagne and then started quibbling bills.”

I sound like a terrible man! I’m just going to have to suck this price hike up. I silently curse this man for taking such an interest in my private affairs, as I throw my wallet down like Superman and let the bill go unquibbled to save my reputation.

But then: “Buy you a drink?” It’s the man. And I’ll tell you what: he has really upped the quality of his questions. I do the maths in my head. This will mean I come out evens. The universe will be balanced once again! But it will also mean breaking my self-imposed rule about a third glass.

Ah well. That would be quibbling!

And yes, I know Superman is DC not Marvel. I just wanted to show you up as the quibbler you are.

I turn to the man. It’s my turn to ask the questions.

“So, what did you have for dinner?” I ask. “Did you park here?”

(Image: iStock)

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