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A Sommelier and His Wine
Foreigners in China
By Cool Han

If you are a French Learner in China, if you are a French living in China, I bet you know a place named “Centre culturel français” French Culture Center in Chaoyang District. A well-designed multimedia library, a classy book store, a French language training school “Alliance Française”, as well as a nice Café named 'Lumière'.

Raphael Sarri, a French man who has been living in China for more than two years is the manager of this exquisite café 'Lumière'. The name of this café easily reminds people of an invention originated by French people contributing to the modernity of this world. More than one hundred years ago, on December 8th, 1895, Lumière Brothers' Cinematograph projections of 50-seconds scenes were first on display at the Grand Café in Paris, which was believed to be the first movie in the world. To be frank, Raphael’s career has little to do with movie or cinema, but he shares a pioneer spirit with Lumière Brothers in some way.

Running café is just part of his job. A bright businessman in his early thirties, Raphael sells French wines in Beijing, and Wine has always been his major ever since college years.

Raphael told me he was a “sommelier”, an occupation which has got no proper translation in English. Basically, a sommelier, like a waiter in restaurant, is in charge of wines and wine service. But French people are not satisfied with this translation because in their minds “sommelier” is much more than a wine steward. One has to get a certificate before becoming a sommelier, thus it requires professional skills. Sommeliers are responsible for choosing and buying wines in a hotel or restaurant. More importantly, they are the persons who select proper wines accordant with guests’ dishes.


Rapahel is a sommelier who has a strong passion for his job. Indulging himself in the world of wines since college year, he confessed that college education gave him no real vision of appreciating wines. “I don’t use the knowledge in the school, I forget them all.” But since then, his life has been all about wines. After graduate, he took training courses in Ireland for four years before working as sommelier in a French restaurant.

As known to all, France is one of the oldest wine producing regions of Europe and it also produces the most wine by value in the world. Although Italy rivals it by volume and Spain has more land under cultivation for wine grapes, “French Wine”, like a golden brand, win customers’ hearts and souls as well as their tongues and noses. Famous as it is, an undeniable truth is that even as recently as 1950s, the typical French person drank only local wine and, although proud of France's reputation for making some of the world's outstanding wines, knew relatively little about them.

Sommeliers, like a bridge, combine grape farmers, wineries and customers together. “AOC Champagne” or “VDT de Bourgogne”, “White Brut Sparkling” or “Dry Red”, jargons like these might be hard to understand by laity, but they are every day used languages of those experts and specialists. The temperate, the season, the latitude; the color, the nose, the aroma, they know everything about a nice wine.
I asked Rapahel why choose China to continue his career, he said he came to China because of his wife: “My wife is working for the French embassy in China.” And a more business-oriented reason is, “It is quite difficult to make money in France.” Due to slow economic growth, many workers complained about their long working hours and low pay which severely impeded business in France. “You need to take the advantage of freedom and right, but you’d better know the limit.”

“France is a boring country.” He added. And that really confused me. The whole French Culture Center is functioned like a window promoting the essence of French culture and splendor of this country. But this French guy sitting in front of me just told me that France was a boring country. “Of course I love my country: it is a nice country, culture, history and civilization. But you don’t live by history. You live at present. And I don’t think I can make any money in France.” Since arriving in China, he found “Earning money in China is easier than in France”. That’s the real reason he chose China.

Maybe before he came here, he had no idea what to expect, but then, the great unknown can be what makes a job like sommelier in China unique and appealing. Just like that story, two salesmen came to Africa to sell their shoes. Seeing nobody wear shoes in this continent, one turned back crying: “Oh my God, no one needs shoes.” His counterpart stared and smiled: “Great, I can make everyone buying shoes from me.”


Doing business in China, Raphael felt he enjoyed more freedom. He can decide the way of arranging business, additionally, as a specialist, he takes advantage of his knowledge and running a successful business in China. He has just merged his two companies into one and found a place to open a new wine shop. Wine industry is booming in China with more affluent Chinese middle class upgrading their living standards and lifestyles. It is an opportunity for a sommelier like Raphael to take his skills and experiences where they are urgently wanted.

It seems that profit should always be the No.1 rule of business. But Raphael said being rich was not his permanent goal of life. “I’m not looking to be very rich. Selling wines, running companies, what I am doing, I like it and enjoy it. If I can earn a little bit money to make a good life, that’s enough.”

He claimed he will stay in China for a fairly long time. His three-year-old daughter Garla speaks perfect Beijing dialect thanks to their “Ayi” who is a Beijinger. His son, an eight-month baby was born in Beijing. Getting a Chinese nationality is impossible, but becoming a ‘New Beijnger’ can very well be of his future. Their father decided to send them to Chinese kindergarten, which made it quite easy for them to learn Chinese well and make Chinese friends.

During our talk, I found Raphael preferred using French than English. When he couldn’t find appropriate English words, he used French and Linda interpreted them into Chinese. “Can you speak Chinese?” I asked. “Very well—when I’m drunk.” Both of us laughed. “I’m very busy, so I have no time to learn Chinese. I think it is very necessary to learn Chinese, but when I started my company, I have to stop the course with my teacher.” Paused for one second, he said: “I’m learning Chinese with my daughter now.” That’s a great idea.


It was Sunday afternoon. Raphael seated in the red sofa in his café, not as a manager, but as a guest. He said he was going to leave after the interview, to stay with his daughter. A veteran sommelier is an expert of wine, but not language. Garla, his dear daughter, is waiting for him—her daddy and her first student.


一位侍酒师和他的法国红酒

    如果你在中国学法语,如果你是一个在中国生活的法国人,我想你肯定知道地处朝阳区的那个法国文化中心。一个设计合理的多媒体图书馆,一家品味不俗的法文书店,一所名为“法语联盟”的法语培训学校,还有一个名叫“吕米埃尔兄弟”的精致咖啡厅。

    拉斐尔•萨利正是这家咖啡厅的老板,他是一位在中国生活了两年多的法国人。咖啡厅的名字让人想起一项法国人的发明,这项发明对推动世界现代化进程功不可没。1895年12月8日,在巴黎的格兰迪咖啡馆,吕米埃尔兄弟首次用他们的电影放映机放映了50秒长的画面,这被看作是世界上第一部电影。其实拉斐尔的工作和电影或者剧院没有什么联系,但是他那开拓者的精神倒是和吕米埃尔兄弟很相似。

经营咖啡厅只是他工作的一部分。三十出头的拉斐尔是个头脑灵活的商人。他的主业是在北京经营红酒生意。从大学开始,红酒就是他的专业。

    拉斐尔告诉我,他曾是个侍酒师,这个职位在英语中并没有合适的对应翻译。简单说来,侍酒师就像饭店的服务员,负责采购酒类并提供相关的酒类服务。但是法国人对这种诠释并不满意。在他们心目中,侍酒师可不仅仅是服务生那么简单。成为侍酒师必须取得资格证书才行,因为这是项工作需要专业知识。在酒店和饭店,侍酒师负责购置酒类并为顾客选择与菜肴搭配的适当酒品。

    作为一名侍酒师,拉斐尔对他的工作怀有极大的热情。他在红酒的世界中畅游始于大学时代,尽管他从不觉得大学教育给了他什么品酒的知识:“我并没有运用学校教的知识,全都忘光了。”但是从此之后,他的生活就一直和红酒相连。毕业之后,他到爱尔兰进修四年,随后就在一家法国餐馆做了侍酒师。

    众所周知,法国在欧洲以悠久的酿酒业而闻名,为世界贡献了上品的红酒。尽管意大利红酒数量众多,西班牙葡萄园规模巨大,但是它们还是比不上法国红酒的声名远扬。“法国红酒”就像一个金字招牌,赢得了顾客的舌头和鼻子,更赢得了他们的心。尽管如此有名,一个不容忽视的事实是,直到1950年,典型的法国人只喝当地产的葡萄酒,就算法国酿酒世界一流,他们对此依然知之甚少。

    而侍酒师则像一座桥梁,把果农,酒庄和顾客联系在了一起。“法定产区命名香槟酒”或者是“日常餐酒”,“干白起泡酒”还是“干红葡萄酒”,这些普通人难解其意的术语却是这些专业侍酒师的日常用语。种植葡萄的温度,季节和纬度;葡萄酒的颜色,品味,芳香:他们对于上等葡萄酒的制成了如指掌。

    我问拉斐尔为什么选择中国来继续他的事业。他说,他来中国是由于他的妻子:“我妻子为法国驻华使馆工作。”而下一个理由才更像是出自商人的头脑:“在法国赚钱很难。”由于法国经济缓慢增长,许多工人抱怨他们过长的工作时间和过低的收入,而这一切都严重干扰了正常的商业运转。“你要充分享受自由和权利,但是你最好知道限度。”

    他补充说:“法国缺乏活力。”这一点让我颇为困惑。 正如一扇窗口,整个法国文化中心旨在宣传法国文化的精髓和国家的瑰丽。然而这个坐在面前的法国人却告诉我“法国很闷”。“我爱自己的国家,文化深厚,历史丰富。但是人活在当下,而不是历史中。在法国我很难赚到钱。”来到中国以后,发发现赚钱要比在法国容易。这才是他到中国的真正原因。

    也许到中国之前,他并没有期待什么,但这种“未知”却让一个侍酒师在中国的工作独特而诱人。在一个故事里,两个销售员同时来到非洲卖鞋子,却发现这片大陆上的人们根本不穿鞋。其中的一个扭头大哭:“天呐,根本没人需要鞋子。”他的同伴若有所思地看了看,随即笑道:“真不赖,我可以让每个人都从我这里买鞋子了。”

    拉斐尔感觉在中国做生意更自由。他可以决定商业运作的方式,而且身为专业人士,他可以充分利用自己的专业知识把生意做大。他新近合并了自己的两家公司,又找到了一个店铺准备销售红酒。在中国,随着中产阶级的壮大,他们的生活水准不断提高,生活方式也在发生着改变。对侍酒师拉斐尔而言,这是个难得的机遇,可以在中国施展他的技能和经验。

    在生意场上,利润永远都是第一位的。但是拉斐尔说,赚钱不是他生活的最终目标。“我并不想要很有钱。销售红酒,经营公司,我做的所有这一切都是我喜欢的。如果我能赚到一些钱,过上不错的生活,那就足够了。”

    他说他会在中国待很久。三岁的女儿尕赫拉北京话说得倍儿棒,都是从在家做小时工的北京“阿姨”那学来的。八个月大的儿子在北京出生。获得中国国籍是不可能了,但是当个新北京人还是很可能的。他们的爸爸决定把他们送到中国幼儿园,这样一来学汉语,交中国朋友就变得很简单了。

    聊天的时候,我发现拉斐尔更喜欢用母语讲话。当他找不到合适的英语词汇时,他就用法语讲,琳娜帮我们翻译。“你能讲汉语吗?”我问。“我当然能啦——当我喝醉的时候。”我们都大笑。“我很忙,所以没时间学汉语。我认为学汉语很有必要,但是当我开始做生意的时候,就不得不停掉中文的课程班了。”顿了一下,他又说:“我现在正在跟我的女儿学汉语。”这真是个好主意。

    那是个周日下午。拉斐尔坐在他咖啡厅的红色沙发上,以客人而不是经理的身份。他说采访结束后就要回去陪女儿。经验丰富的侍酒师是红酒专家,却不是语言大师。他可爱的小女儿尕赫拉正在等着他——他亲爱的爸爸和她的第一个学生。



 

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