A few days ago I went to a North African restaurant I like. Recently it's been harder to get a reservation because it has been listed in several restaurant guides, and since they don't answer the phone much, I've often gone round only to find that there is no space. The owners have known me for years and are always apologetic when that happens.
After a delicious meal with prunes and couscous (doesn't sound good, does it?), the beautiful daughter of the house came over with a silver sprinkler and sprinkled my hands with orange-flower water. This is the custom in the Maghreb for honored guests, and also in Maghrébin restaurants in Paris. I asked her what the sprinkler was called, thinking it would be a wonderful thing to own. "I'm sure the ancient Romans had a custom like this," I added. "It's so civilized."
The lovely waitress looked thoughtful for a second, then admitted she didn't know-- she was born and raised in France. I saw her go and consult with her parents. She came back and said, "It's called a mrach, or something like that! I don't know how to spell it though."
It was the end of a weekday evening, during the school holidays in France, and the restaurant was almost empty. The family sat at the entrance around the table, having a well-deserved glass of wine. When I left they got up to say goodbye and the chef-owner shook my hand. He signaled to his daughter and she brought over a shopping bag. "This is for you," he said, pressing it into my hands. I looked inside and saw only some paper.
"Thank you very much!" I said, a bit puzzled, but they looked pleased so I knew they had given me something nice. When I got home, I unwrapped the paper and found this mrach and a large bottle of orange-flower water. It was such a nice thing to do.
Now I have to figure out some way to thank them. If you have an idea, let me know!