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Revised: The New Yorker’s Article is On Backwards

I have some sassy remarks for a one Mr. Paul Simms of The New Yorker for his piece this week called “Restaurant Mental-Health-Code Violations“. It understandably caught my eye this morning, being a current and long-time member of the hospitality industry, and I looked forward to reading its quippy prose today on my bus to work [again: at a restaurant].

I was sorely disappointed.

Being the naive thing I am capable of being on occasion, I comically thought it was written for those of us in service, and as a pointed reminder to the served population that they should brush up on their manners. Clearly, I’ve put on airs and have risen far above my station with the thought of correcting my betters– so I’m going to run with it and mutiny in style. Ah, I love the fresh taste of insubordination in the morning!

The Article, with Suggested Revisions

Mr. Simms: Hostess at virtually empty restaurant asks customers if they have a reservation, then types on computer, then seats them at table right next to the only other customers in the restaurant.

Jules: Party of fifteen walks into a hectic restaurant on a Friday night, asks for a “quiet table” “away from children”. When hostess asks if they have a table reserved for them, party responds over the loud din of a crowded restaurant “oh, did we need one?” Five minutes later, they begin to teach the hostess how to do her own job by pointing at an empty table, asking if they can sit there, and making a fuss when they’re told it’s reserved. We don’t bust into your office and show you how to make a tax spreadsheet just because our refunds aren’t arriving quickly enough; I know it takes time and I haven’t a clue on the details of the system. Try that concept on for size.

I’m not saying I’ve done it… but I’m not saying I haven’t, either.

Customer over the age of thirty-five is told by server that chocolate dessert is “tight,” “off the hook,” and also “the bomb.”

Customer requests a “regular” sized drink, at the “normally hot” temperature, with the “usual amount of cream/sugar/etc”, despite the fact that they used entirely subjective terms. Customer returns five minutes later with the drink upset that it is too small, too hot, and not sweet enough. [Also: haven’t heard “the bomb” since middle school.]

Open kitchen layout allows customers a clear view of line cook wearing regulation hairnet but no covering on his gigantic, filthy lumberjack beard.

Customer harasses hostess into rapidly cleaning and re-seating them at a table, then complains about the surface being wet. Yes… that’s because it was cleaned literally five seconds ago, and someone was impatient. They later go into the bathroom and leave piles of used paper towels, puddles of water, and soap dripping everywhere. It’s ok, the staff will clean it.

Server repeatedly and aggressively uses the words “mootz-arell ” and “pruh-zhoot ” with a straight face, almost as if taunting.

Customer repeatedly and aggressively uses the words “mootz-arell” and “pruh-zhoot” with a straight face, almost as if taunting. Scratch that, exactly as if taunting– especially since customer not minutes before informed other guests they studied for a week in Italy one summer, and immediately asked the server [in broken Italian] where their family is from.

Party of seven all wearing flip-flops in plain sight.

Agreed. But I will add, to counter against the entitled rich, with a bejeweled woman protesting that her lapdog must be allowed in to dine as her emotional companion, pointing to another service dog already in the restaurant. That dog helps a man live without sight; yappy chihuahuas seem hellbent on me living without hearing.

I have an affliction that prevents me from hearing people that are not looking at me. This includes cell phones, any electronic devices, and especially when your gaze is misdirected at inappropriate body parts.

Server lies in wait to ask for orders until customer is at the climax of a long anecdote. Once orders are taken and customer has recapped anecdote up to the interruption point and is about to deliver the punch line, server returns to double-check on orders.

Customer never shuts up long enough for server to politely take orders, thus necessitating interruption. Later, the comment card reads both “overly attentive server” and “took awhile to take our order”, as if customer has absolutely no sense of irony. Even worse: cell phones. I refuse to acknowledge a person in front of me until they decide to acknowledge that I am a person.

Chocolate mousse with a single candle in it is served to easily embarrassed customer who agreed to have dinner with friends only on the condition that they not make a big deal out of his birthday. Birthday boy’s friends are the type who get the whole restaurant to join in singing “Happy Birthday” and convince themselves that this is actually what he wants, even though he wants to crawl under table and die.

Try being the idiot delivering that candled mousse when all the other servers pulled a duck-and-cover and you had to go it alone, hoping the birthday kid’s friends aren’t too cheap to tip for your humiliation.

While dining at Chinese restaurant whose tables are full of Asian families, non-Asian customer refuses to admit to companion that the food was not good; claims companion must have “ordered wrong.”

Working in an ethnic restaurant with tables full of enlightened diners, while new customers send back clearly described dishes for being “too flavorful” after eating majority of the plate, and insisting on a comp’ed meal or reimbursement of some kind.

Solo diner blows out table candle to avoid accidentally setting his newspaper on fire, only to have it relit repeatedly by busboy.

Solo diner refused ample space to eat at the bar, orders from anyone that walks by, even if clearly a hostess and not server, and then reads the same newspaper article over and over. For three hours. On a Saturday night. Leaves a five dollar tip, half in change.

Seriously, people. Servers aren’t robots.

Earnest foodie is despondent owing to an inability to conceal his revulsion at much ballyhooed stew of braised organ meats and raw root vegetables.

Earnest foodie should revel in the fact they found a place that served something as distinctive as a stew of braised organ meats and raw root vegetables, and go home to ballyhoo some more about it on his blog. They later tell server, after the order is sent, that two of them need everything gluten-free and a third is deathly allergic to table salt.

Server takes drink, appetizer, salad, and entrée orders from party of seven but writes nothing on order pad, despite complexity of order and multiple substitutions. Customer is forced to make halfhearted joke about server’s apparently prodigious memory. Server takes joke as a compliment rather than a caution. Server gets all orders wrong. 

Customers order variety of ethnic dishes at authentic restaurant, then send half of them back for “not being what they ordered” and “not like they had when they visited the country”, when in fact customers don’t have as firm a grasp of Italian/ Thai/ Arabic/ Chinese/ etc language and culture as they thought and simply ordered the wrong thing without reading the description.

Counter personnel at fast-food establishment being just ridiculous about one-napkin-per-order policy.

Customers clearly trying to restock their car’s stash of napkins and making a fuss when told that no, they’re not allowed an unlimited supply just because it’s a fast-food establishment.

Irate customer at nearby table repeatedly uses phrase “dry-cleaning bill” when arguing with server over accidental spill, even though it was a glass of water and customer is wearing tank top and cargo shorts.

No argument; succinctly put, my friend.

Server rapidly rattles off long list of beers on tap. One member of dining party asks server to repeat list. Server repeats list just as rapidly. Same member of dining party asks server to repeat list one more time. Everyone else in party wants to murder both server and customer, who ends up ordering a bottle of Stella.

Customer repeatedly asks server to recite long list of beers on tap, despite the fact that it is in print both on the table and the menus. Everyone else in the party should speak up and tell their friend to stop being a douche and just order Miller like he always does, since the server would like to but would get fired.

This would be life-alteringly cool.

Member of all-white waitstaff barks at member of all-Hispanic busboy staff in way that makes customers feel like those who just stood by and watched in Vichy France.

Member of all-it-doesn’t-matter-what-ethnicity party barks at all-ANYONE in the service industry in way that makes any humane person feel like those who just stood by and watched in Syria…. well, today.

So here’s the deal, people. We understand that it is our job to cater to paying customers– a lot of us are even good at dealing with your sometimes-inane requests. Like walking into a Middle Eastern restaurant and asking for a quiet table

or requesting your Thai to only be a little spicy [you need to learn how peppers are made]. Some requests are even along the lines of “I want a martini, but tell the bartender to not make this one so strong.”

Are you kidding me, ma’am? You do understand that a martini is straight liquor– how can we make it weaker? Would you rather have a gin’n’tonic? Or Screwdriver? No? You just want it in the fancy glass, don’t you. We might as well put juice in a martini glass, charge you $10, and pocket the change.

So here’s the deal, Mr. Simms. I understand that it can sometimes be hard to find a restaurant with a staff competent enough to make your lactose-intolerant Cobb salad, hold-the-avocado, bacon-offends-you, chives-give-bad-breath, eggs-are-bad-for-cholesterol, but extra-grill the chicken with dressing-on-the-side [which, for you non-Cobb eaters, is just burnt chicken on a bed of lettuce]. Sincerely, New York must truly be the edge of civilization if it’s difficult to eat without flip-flops and birthday candles flying all over the place.

Simple guidelines: ALWAYS make a reservation for a party of five or more on a weekend night, and at any time for one larger than six. Think about logistics, people. Hexagonal pegs cannot fit into square holes. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how important or educated you think you are– servers are people just trying to earn their pay. They are NOT servants there to be abused at your beck-and-call, and their profession does not give you leave to be condescending shits. So be nice.

They might be your leader one day. I know I will.

Geek Chic

One of the greatest adjustments one has to make once you move to DC is a fantastic one: your geekiness no long marks you as an outsider.

High school was a confusing time...

Whether it’s on a date or simply getting to know new people in general, we of the dweeby variety are pretty used to self-categorizing ourselves with a sense of apology if timid, and defiance if extroverted.

“Ha, sorry, I’m kind of nerdy like that…”

OR: “Hey, I geek out all the time– GET USED TO IT.”

Back in high school/ most of college, the only time you would see the mainstream ‘cool kids’ wearing what society has dubbed ‘geek-wear’ would be on their way to a theme party. They were only costumes, and barely recognizable ones at that– you just know those girls were wearing sexed-up uniforms to look more Brittany Spears-esque than bookish. But here? It’s legitimate, worn with pride, and [hopefully] representing actual intelligence.

In Washington, the identity is echoed everywhere you turn. Even in the most surprising places, you see yourself mirrored back from every corner, under each rock, and the eyes of nearly all the people about you. Half of the cab drivers I talk to were political science students in their home countries (though the job market forces them to seek the independence of the yellow chauffer in the Land of the Free). What I would dismissively refer to in college as ‘that geeky shit I did in high school’ are no longer educational programs that need explanation– everyone in DC did stuff like Model UN and Mock Trial. We’ve all been there, and now we’re all trying to live those actual lives as young professionals. It’s pretty cool.

In my mind, it's the girl saying this.

It’s smart, it’s sexy– it’s geek chic. The guys dress like Don Draper, and the ladies are redesigning the Marilyn-Jackie duo for a new generation (and yes, I’m evidently still coming down off the recent season’s Mad Men high). I wanted to talk to a cute guy on the bus one time simply because he was reading Game of Thrones. Nerd-dom has finally earned its just rewards, and is definitely a turn-on. I’m not sure what’s hotter than a geek-turned-man with a nice suit, skinny tie, and progressive sense of purpose…. but if there’s something out there that trumps it, my heart might not be prepared to handle the sight.

So geek chic is the thing to be. Unlike the older Urkle variety, we don’t lack social graces or fashion. We have keen intelligence, fierce ambition, and the passion to prove it. Whether we’re determined to make it as the next mind-blowing DJ or are expanding our Hill resumes to eventually run for office, there’s something we all share: that certain je ne sais quoi of sophistication that marks us without a doubt. We have class, and Washington is the place to shine.

Afterword: I’ve been toying with this idea for awhile– coming across a similar concept inspired me to finally post it. While kicking around the blogosphere, I tripped over someone worth mentioning (and possibly idolizing; I might have a bit of an intellectual crush here). Eric Schultz coined noveaux nerd for the new-and-improved Geek 2.0 version that I talk about. He describes us (yes, I say ‘us’) as:

When I came up with the term, I meant it to mean a young-ish urbanite that embraces how truly nerdy, geeky, and unabashedly stylish they are. In other words, the nouveau nerd has swagger. It doesn’t have to be about science. It just means you have a passion for learning new ideas, enjoy thinking critically, are socially deft, and you look good doing it. Nothing irks me worse than the idea that nerds are social awkward and ambivalent about the culture that surrounds them. Often, nouveau nerds drive the culture and shift perceptions about science, technology, and the arts. And I love that about our attendees.” [Interview found on Famous DC here.]

So he created an opportunity [movement? repeated display of sheer awesomeness?] for DCists to get together, learn, party, and generally love on eachother’s nerdiness called thirst DC. They all get together and turn a mix of laid-back lecturing, happy hour networking, and late-night flirting into what he calls a “sexy nerd house party”. I do believe I might have a raging crush on his– and everyone involved in Thirst DC– brain. Next event is April 26th; who’s in?

The Gentlemen of Columbia Heights

I profoundly love my neighborhood, and here’s why:

I can no longer count the number of times I’ve been in line to hop on the bus, and a guy’s held out his arm to let me go first. And it’s not only guys my age trying to be flirty– I’m talking ages eight all the way up to eighty. The next person to tell me chivalry’s dead gets a smack to the head, because they’re clearly just not paying attention.

There has been a serious increase in the show of gallantry around here lately, and it deserves some legitimate praise. I’ve always been the type to hold doors for people, unfailingly let the elderly go first anywhere, and give up my seat often… but I do that for everyone. It’s what I was raised to maintain as common courtesy [though evidently isn’t so common anymore]. But these encounters lately go above and beyond simple civility– they are straight up gentlemen!

La-dee-da!

Last week, I was waiting for the Circulator on 14th to go to work, and a kid was waiting towards the front of the line. He couldn’t have been older than eleven, scrawny, mildly scruffy, and clearly just got out of school. He let every single woman go ahead of him. When I smiled and told him to go ahead and get on, he shook his head and said, “No no, ladies first!” I laughed and thanked him. He found an empty seat before me, since I fumbled with my wallet, and even hopped up to offer me his seat when I passed him. I wished his mama had been around so that I could thank her, too, because she’s clearly doing something right while raising him.

So this brings me to an interesting power struggle here in DC (no, I’m not talking about Obama/Romney, or the fact that CVS petitioning for a liquor license will put all our favorite bodegas out of business). No, the issue is…..

“The Battle of Feminism vs. Chivalry”

Every time a girl complains about the lack of gentlemen around, she blames guys for being lazy or having no manners. I don’t know how many times a girlfriend’s told me that a guy accepted some variety of favor from her, and then didn’t even offer to walk her to the metro/bus/just his front stoop. Whether it was sexual or simply cooking dinner, a girl definitely deserves more than a “goodbye– the metro’s a ten minute walk that-a-way”.

For the record: I do not necessarily agree with this,
it is simply evidence.

On the flipside, I hear men protest about women wanting to ‘further their feminist agendas’ AND have dinner bought for them (as if we can only have it one way or the other?). A few friends have even told me that when, being the sweethearts they are, they’ve opened doors for their dates or tried to pay the check, all it got them was an earful. That women have gone off on them about how chivalry offends them in various ways for ‘violating their independence by paying’, or ‘condescending their intelligence, as if they can’t open the car door themselves’.

Here are my two cents on chivalry vs. feminism: a man letting me on the bus first has nothing to do with the strength of my independence or value as a woman–so keep it up, boys! Seriously, all of those issues are complete bunk. Girls: if you’re seeing a man who won’t at least offer to walk you to the metro or kiss you the next morning, it isn’t because they don’t exist– you simply aren’t WITH one, so dump his ass. Guys:  gender equality and common courtesy are NOT mutually exclusive, they’re actually the same thing. So stop complaining that we want you to both cut back on the office harassment and pull out our chairs. Everyone needs to just grow up and be thoughtful.

Special note to the more aggressive feminists giving the few gentlemanly guys a hard time: KNOCK IT OFF. You’re being overly sensitive. The only reason his offer to buy you dinner offended you is because you have unresolved confidence issues, not because he thinks women are incapable of counting out correct change. If you think gallantry is contrived solely to lord his manliness over you, then what is your condescending feminist refusal trying to prove? Two-way streets can be a bitch if you don’t look both ways, so stop trying to jaywalk and just let him do something nice once in awhile. If you can’t manage that, then at least don’t scare him into never doing it again for a girl who will appreciate it, please.

And it isn’t just the young ones being all courtly around here lately– a seventy year old man adamantly insisted I get on the bus before him today, and he was using a cane to walk. In the past month, I have also had a man chase after me a block because I dropped my scarf, another give me his seat on the metro, and countless others insist I go first, whether at the bus, grocery store, bank, or various other social situations. I’ve been called miss, lady, ma’am– and once, even, ‘snowflake’ [I was wearing a dark dress and have very pale skin].

What is going on here?? The second you get downtown or even just to Dupont, people are rushing around all over each other to get to the ever-important place they’re going to first, and rarely look up from their Blackberries long enough to realize they’ve tripped someone. But up here in Columbia Heights? Oh no, the only dirty looks you’ll be getting these days are when you don’t offer a lady your seat or give her a hand with the door. Did Prince of Petworth send out some secret PSA this week to his male readers about minding their manners or something? And what does it say about me that my response to this chivalry has been baffled amazement? I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m not going to look a gift-horse in the mouth. I’m just going to keep riding this gallant wave, be grateful, and spread the word.

The secret to happiness, for both genders.

So here’s my advice:

  • to Washington girls: you want to be treated like a lady where you live? Move to Columbia Heights. One of the greatest ways to keep up your confidence is to purposefully keep yourself in a friendly atmosphere, and now you know where to find it.
  • to District guys: still looking for that amazing, special someone? Well, now you know where my friends and I will be.

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