Fill up my glass please
I still remember the first time I asked for water at a restaurant in Germany. “Gas?” he asked and I said “No, water.” Again he asked if I wanted gas and again I said water. It was really getting very perplexing with me wondering how Germans managed to drink water in gaseous form. It all became clear when a bottle of sparkling water arrived at my table, of course and there was some righteous indignation when I later saw how much it cost (after converting to Singapore Dollars).
Over the years, I have followed the stories of tapwater being served or not in restaurants. Turned out that Germany was a special case in Europe where tapwater was also charged. In the United States, I was happy to note that getting tapwater (and free!) was not a problem at all. The bigger problem was to get it without ice and at room temperature.
At Schipol Airport, on the way back home after attending Aquatech and a week of drinking delicious chlorine-free water at Amsterdam, I was particularly incensed when a restaurant refused to give me tapwater. There I was, sitting bleary-eyed in the early morning hours, reflecting on how bottled water costs as much as 500 times the cost of tapwater and yet tastes like plastic. I left a furious note on the table asking why tapwater was being refused in a country, which had one of the world’s cleanest water.
Interestingly, in January last year some 100,000 people signed a petition calling on Dutch restaurants to place a carafe of tapwater on the table without being asked.
Growing up in India, it was a given for me that restaurants served tapwater right in the beginning and kept filling up the glasses until you left. Of course, the bottled water culture has permeated India too but most restaurants will give you Aquaguard water. Aquaguard is a brand that has become a term for filtered water in India somewhat like Google has come to mean web-browsing.
Last month, in Bengaluru, a woman won a court battle against KFC over being denied “free, clean drinking water” at one of its restaurants and being forced to buy a bottle of mineral water. She said that she had been denied her fundamental right. Ultimately a city consumer court passed a significant order pertaining to not just KFC, but all city multiplexes, restaurants and eateries, directing them to provide clean and free drinking water to visitors throughout the year.
At the heart of the order by the city court is a long-held Indic belief about offering water to every guest. As a child, I remember passers-by ringing the doorbell asking for water and my mother giving it to them. I see this belief in action all over Southeast Asia where ancient India had spread its thoughts.
It should be relatively easy to settle the matter of offering tapwater to guests or not, to charge for it or not. The bigger question still remains – when will we have clean water for everyone and how can we reach that blissful situation?