Thursday 17 April 2014

The Invisible Waitron

It's Passover! De Gurls Dau.I and Dau.II came home for Seder on Tuesday.  D.II incommmming from Cork arrived in time for dinner for which I created a distinctly unJewish lentil stew in which a large lump of ham had been seethed - the salt: mmmm so good.  But we probably couldn't have had Seder-traditional gefilte-fish croquetas because there is a shortage of that commodity this year due to the brutal winter that the fresh-water of lakes of North America have experienced.  D.I had to put in a full shift cooking, barista-ing, serving and cashing at her cafe In England, so was only able to catch the last plane out of Brum BHX, arriving at 2200hrs.  It turns out that crisply efficient Wexfordbus has three DUB-WX departures in the late evening, so if you're on time or a little early you can get home really quickly but there is a back-up at 2330 if Ryanair is delayed. The great thing about being delayed on Ryanair is that you are spared the self-congratulatory fanfare over the intercom which Ryanair blares out for achieving what it contracted to do. Me, I don't run up a flag and play the Marseillaise at the end of a practical in which no students set fire to themselves. But we the parents thought one of us should do the 290km of decency and go pick her up - and it was me.

After packing in a lot of pig'n'lentil (jumping up and down a bit to settle it and then sitting down for more) I heaved myself into the car.  Having got up to view the last three undelivered ewes at 0000, 0130 & 0300 the night before, and with most of my circulatory system trying to deal with a hyaena's dinner, I was tending to doze on the motorway to Dublin.  But Dau.I kindly undertook to keep me awake talking rather than taking the available blanket and pillow and sacking out in the back of the car.  So I heard quite a bit about the reality of working in the service industry.

It started with an anecdote about a young pal of ours who, as a teenager at one of the Home Ed Conferences had volunteered to dole out the chow at mealtimes.  Feeding more than 200 people, half of them minors, many of them vegans or lactose/gluten/pulse-intolerant, all of them hungry can require reserves of mindfulness.  But our young servitor discovered that many of the adults, whom she had known all her life, were incapable of a) making eye-contact or b) being common-or-garden polite, let alone saying please or thank-you.  What's that about?  Anyone who has watched Downton Abbey or the less melodramatic Upstairs-Downstairs will know that them-downstairs know a helluva a lot about The Gentry because the Toffs cannot see the servants when they have their (in)discrete chats on the chaise-longue in the withdrawing room at the end of the East Wing.

Dau.I works in a Cafe with a large proportion of reg'lars among the customers.  She knows who will address their order to the menu-board rather than the woman writing it all down; who will complain to the manager and then over-state how long their dinner was delayed; who will bark at the waitron and simper to the boss.  I've written before about casual, possibly quite unconscious, racism on buses. I have a wide experience of bus-travel in Ireland and I try to sit up near the front to see where we're going.  I've had many occasions to note a difference in the treatment received by a fit symmetrical young-wan and an middle-aged black mother-of-two-and-a-buggy. One peculiarity about Irish culture that is only noticed by visitors is that the bus-driver is very often thanked for opening the doors to let the passengers out. You can see why that mother may not feel too inclined to follow that cultural norm.  We treat our homosexuals in very much the same way as we treat our blacks.  Some of my best friends are black, or I shook hands with a homosexual once means you note the difference in skin colour and that you have a gaydar that works.  I have a gaydar that works . . . remarkably badly, but I defo notice if a chap is black. And if we treated women as people, I wouldn't feel obliged to write a whole series of Blobs celebrating women in science.  To Paraphrase Dr Johnson: "Sir, a woman's doing science is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."  Boswell: "WTF? you old curmudgeon!".

It costs so little to be kind!  Colin Randall who gave us the dope on Doisneau's Le Baiser, has a fine story about when he was (The Mighty) Executive News Editor of The Daily Telegraph. When his paper was picked up in a sexist solecism (a word you can use if you read the Telegraph) he took the time to write a letter expressing thanks and contrition to the lady-corrector when it would have been easier just to resolve to do better next time  . . . or, less honorably, dismiss the whole thing as the ravings of another grammar nazi. There is a happy, even cost-positive, come-uppence to the story.

Mais revenons-nous a nos waitrons. Do you think that you might do better here?  Having sorted out your issues with blacks, women, gays might you not, with advantage, reflect on how you spoke (or conspicuously failed to speak) to the person who served you a cappuccino, or lunch, or banked your cheque, or sold you the groceries? You don't have to give them flowers, you (by which I mean I) just have to acknowledge that they're human and maybe that it's been a long hard day. It worked wonders in Belsen.

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