Erneste works in the restaurant of a grand hotel in Giessbach in Switzerland. He is the 'perfect waiter', a model of order in every way, and his private life seems to embody the qualities he brings to his job. But inwardly this polite and dignified man is in the grip of a violent passion, a passion aroused many years before in the late 1930s when he fell in love with a young waiter, Jakob. For Jakob the affair was just a fling, a fleeting step on the way to better things. One day, when Erneste finds Jakob in flagrante with a great German writer, Julius Klinger, it was all over. Jakob fled Nazi-dominated Europe for a new life in America with Klinger, and Erneste’s heart was broken. He spends the next thirty years becoming what had previously only been a role - the ‘perfect waiter’.